Agency Spotlight–Federal Air Marshal Service

Nov 29, 2016



This post in our Agency Spotlight series is on the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). They fall under the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which falls under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Their mission statement is this, “The Air Marshal Service is meant to promote confidence in civil aviation by effectively deploying Federal Air Marshals (FAM’s) to detect, deter, and defeat hostile acts targeting the United States.” They are deployed on US-flagged aircraft throughout the world that aligns with TSA Risk Based Security, 365 days a year. As a risk-based organization, their goals and missions are continually adjusted in response to emerging threats.

History of the FAMs

The Federal Air Marshal Service can be tracked back to 1962 and were originally under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As restructures have happened, they were moved to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The TSA was established after the signing of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act in November 2001, under the Bush Administration. Then in 2005, FAMS moved under the authority of DHS. There were just 33 air marshals working on September 11th so President Bush pushed for a massive expansion of the program. Within a month, 600 air marshals were hired and began training and thousands more in the following months. Now, there are around 4,000 active FAM’s, and they serve as the primary law enforcement officers of TSA.

FAMs Training

FAM’s are specially trained agents who fly undercover as passengers to protect the crew and passengers from any potential threats, terrorists, and unruly passengers. Also, they assist with medical emergencies. Their training consists of two stages. The first part of training involves learning about constitutional law, marksmanship, defense tactics and other law enforcement techniques. The second phase focuses on what they can expect to face in the field. This involves perfecting marksmanship skills. They are some of the best marksmen in the world because they have only the close confines of the airplane cabin to work within. Therefore, they must also maintain a high firearms proficiency standard. In addition to their initial training, FAM’s receive 20 training days per year.

Prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the high standards of their firearms training, placed FAM’s in the top one percent of all shooters in the world. The pre-9/11 standard was so strict, however, that many post-9/11 candidates could not pass the course.

Changes After September 11th

There were numerous changes that occurred to the Federal Air Marshal Service after September 11, 2001. A few of these include,

  • Prior to 9/11/01, the FAM’s missions were focused almost exclusively on international flights/routes. More domestic routes were added after the terrorist attacks.
  • Since Air Marshals were small in numbers, they were closely associated with the intelligence community. They had intimate knowledge of the aviation system and all were issued Top Secret Clearance. The Director of FAA Federal Air Marshal program also secured them Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). This allowed them the ability to gather information when evaluating overseas airports. This changed after 9/11/01.
  • For the first time in their history, FAM’s primary duty shifted to flying missions. Before 9/11/01, they worked primarily as FAA Inspectors. They would only work as FAM’s during special events or periods of heightened threat towards the aviation system.

Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR)

The VIPR program falls within the TSA as well. These teams provide an extra layer of random, high visibility presence in the mass transit environment. This program was first created to work in a ‘non-aviation’ environment. The group is comprised of FAM’s and other Federal Law Enforcement Officers. Their focus is to search and detain travelers at ferries, ports, railroad and bus stations, truck weigh stations and special events, such as the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, and State of the Union addresses. They also inspect ships, vehicles, and containers. In 2007, TSA increased the frequency of VIPR deployments from one a month to two per week.

Some government officials have given definitions of the purpose of VIPR teams:

Augmentation: “Augment the security of any mode of transportation at any location within the US.”

Presence/Detection: “Provide an increased visible deterrent force for all modes of transportation for homeland security.”

Terrorism and Emergencies: “Prepare to respond to a large-scale incident such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster.”


  • “To detect threats to national security as well as immigration law violators.”
  • “Seek out illicit radiological sources that may present a threat to the public.”
  • “Ship boarding and inspection; container cargo inspection; port employee vehicle inspection checkpoints; and vehicle inspection checkpoints for truck and passenger vehicles.”
  • “VIPR teams are an essential part of protecting highway transportation vehicles and other critical infrastructures.”
  • “X-ray trucks for explosives, weapons, anything unusual, radiation explosives and drugs. Perform safety inspections.”

Issues Facing FAM’s

One major issue in the Federal Air Marshal community is sleep deprivation. FAM’s fly most days out of the month and their sleep schedule is very irregular. Often, their flights are extremely long, at odd hours during the day and overnight. Therefore, many of them have broken sleep patterns. A study on CNN found that 75 percent of FAM’s on domestic flights suffer from some level of sleep deprivation, while 84 percent do on international flights. Their job calls for them to be critical at a moment’s notice, and sleep deprivation can make that extremely difficult. The study also states, “the acute and chronic lack of sleep substantially degrades a Federal Air Marshals ability to react and think quickly…”

Another issue has come into the spotlight as well; radiation. A letter from the Air Marshal Association (AMA) warns FAMS of the dangers while flying. In this letter, they mention that time, distance and shielding all play a part in how much radiation they’re exposed to while flying.

Time: The longer the aircraft is in the air, the more radiation you’re exposed to.

Distance: Flying a longer distance means flying at a higher altitude, which means more radiation exposure.

Shielding: This involves wearing objects or clothes that protect against exposure. Also, making sure to keep your window shade closed during day flights.

Here are just a few of the Federal Air Marshals we have helped:

“Harris Federal Law Firm and Candace Montgomery deserve an eleven on a ten scale for excellent legal work and kind service. Upon calling Harris Federal I received speedy attention and excellent guidance from Cal. I had further questions and spoke to Cal several times. I was not charged even after several advice consultations. Once I retained Harris Federal, I spoke to Candace Montgomery and instantly knew she was thorough. Candace genuinely cared for my case, my situation, and was lightning fast in processing my case. I remember contacting Candace on at least five occasions where immediate attention or advice for my case was needed. She immediately took care of whatever the need was while managing her daily tasks and other clients. Candace has a high level of emotional intelligence to include being able to multi-task expertly. I was awarded an OPM disability approval after seven and half months. This included a denial in the first stage, and the denial was not due to Harris Federal or Candace. The denial was simply an inconsistency that exists in the government and OPM in this case. However, Harris Federal was on top of the situation and quickly sent my case to reconsideration. My case was approved approximately ten weeks later. Candace kept me motivated with pep talks and advising me with healthy expectations. She is too busy to take this type of conversation time, however, she did and that is why she is the best. Harris Federal employs Candace like individuals to be the best and serve federal employees who serve their country, become injured/ill, and are deserving of this benefit. Ashlee Cartmell deserves kudos as well. Ashlee assisted me with medical records and sage advice every instance I emailed or called her. Additionally, Chandra was kind so many times I called the general office number to speak with anyone at Harris Federal. This goes to show the type of team collaboration at Harris Federal. Simply put, if you are a federal employee needing disability retirement look no further than Harris Federal Law Firm. They get the job done, answer your calls, take the time to just talk, and are lightning fast. I will always refer Harris Federal Law Firm.”

M. E. – Chantilly, VA

“Through working and training hard we seldom think about the possibility or need of a medical retirement in the federal government. During the unknown and the long process of applying for a medical retirement, I felt reassured by the experience Harris Federal Law Firm has. My case manager was experienced and answered my concerns promptly. Thank you for a job well done.”

B. T. – Miramar, FL

“When I found out I had problems with my back that were irreparable I was devastated … I didn’t know what I was going to do…   When I informed the Air Marshal Service about it I was told that I would lose my job if I couldn’t be cleared … Thank god for Harris Federal!!! They helped me by thoroughly explaining my rights and helped me negotiate through the complicated retirement process… Every step of the way my case manager Candace made sure I was taken care of… She made the process simple and answered all my questions … She took a personal interest into the case and kept me well informed … I’m not sure who was more excited when the process was complete and I received word of my retirement, her or me … Thanks, Harris Federal for looking out for me and making sure all went my way!!!“

W. H. – Haymarket, VA

How we help

We have helped many Federal Air Marshals with their federal disability retirement claims. With over 50 successful FAMS cases this year, we have helped Federal Air Marshals be approved for lumbar sprains, herniated discs, seizure disorders, chronic pain, Middle Range Hearing Loss, sleep apnea, and much more. Additionally, we offer a discount if you are a member of the Air Marshal Association. If you are a Federal Air Marshal who can no longer perform all your essential job duties, please don’t hesitate to call us at 877-226-2723 to see how we can help you. You can also fill out this inquiry form.


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