UPDATE: Rep. Kathy Castor calls for investigation
Tampa, Florida -- When planes take off in America, it is the job of the Federal Air Marshals to make sure terrorists don't hijack the flight and create a repeat of 9/11. While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says it is working great, some in the know disagree.
One of more than 10 federal air marshals -- or FAMs as they are called -- that we have been talking to for the past several weeks says the system is a complete failure. He says Congress, the White House and the public have been sold a bill of goods.
Photo Gallery: Federal Air Marshals criticize TSA
These federal agents blame the managers in the agency, claiming they have a pre 9/11 mentality and mind. They say they are the ones who allowed 9/11 to happen.
The FAMs are particularly critical of managers who are retirees of the Secret Service, who make up a significant amount of management in the agency. The former Secret Service agents have a loophole that allows them to collect their pension and also a salary from the TSA. That is not normally allowed in the federal government.
According to the FAMs, the double dipping Secret Service agent managers know nothing about air safety. They point to the fact they did not go through the rigorous two and half month anti-terrorist training that federal air marshals undergo.
However, the air marshals say the managers often will work an international flight -- bumping off a qualified agent -- in order to get a free flight to a choice destination.
The FAMS also complain about the managers working domestic flights as well. In an EEO suit against the agency, a FAM alleges the assistant special agent in charge of the Tampa office, James Zloto, was asleep while he was giving what's called a "check ride" and acting as a backup on a flight from Orlando to Atlanta.
An exhibit in the suit shows Zloto with his eyes closed, his head tilted back and mouth open on the flight.
Standard operating procedure is that a FAM on a plane is armed. Another one of the FAMs we talked to says he was asleep and it is an embarrassment. According to the FAM, if a bad guy knew who Zloto was and that he was armed, he could have made a play for the gun.
Zloto didn't return our calls and the TSA would not confirm or deny the allegation, but an agency spokesman says the TSA will look into those allegations. However, since we started making our inquires, the agent in charge of the Central Florida office issued an e-mail saying Zloto is temporarily reassigned to the Orlando office and not in charge of Tampa until further notice.
A third FAM explains it this way: He says when you become a supervisor, you become untouchable.
Then there is what's called the "Jeopardy Board." The FAMS says managers played a game using derogatory terms for blacks, Hispanics, women, gay people and veterans, among others, which were not welcome in the agency. The FAMs say the board demonstrates the hostile work environment they have to endure.
A FAM took a picture of the Jeopardy Board while it was in the Orlando office and says there were categories like "Pickle Smokers," which would have gone after anyone who was gay, and categories like "Buckwheat" and "Our Gang" targeting African Americans.
The agent in charge of the Central Florida Division, Bill Reese, while not confirming the board, sent a memo out saying the allegations are that the Jeopardy Board contains numerous insensitive references to race, gender and sexual orientation. Reese says discrimination won't be tolerated.
Meanwhile, TSA, which has confirmed existence of the board, and says because of the allegations, it is doing an Internal Affairs investigation into the Central Florida Office.
Another FAM says the managers acted as a group of bullies. He says they are law enforcement officers who had crossed the line, and that they believe they were above the law at any cost.
While the federal air marshals say there are problems in every office in the agency, they say the Central Florida Division with offices in Orlando and Tampa has a special distinction. They say it is probably the worst example there is.
The FAMs say the managers are careerists who care nothing about going after terrorists, but worry only about their careers and pensions.
The air marshals say they believe the country is vulnerable for another attack, because they say those in charge are focused on office politics and their pensions instead of on terrorism and protecting the country.
Mike Deeson, 10 Connects