'Secret' dress code

Published: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 11:44 p.m.
The Federal Air Marshal Service is having issues with its employees who go incognito aboard commercial flights going incognito aboard commercial flights is no longer an option for employees of the Federal Air Marshal Service going incognito aboard commercial flights shouldn't prove so difficult for employees of the Federal Air Marshal Service.
Imagine the success rate law-enforcement officers would have if their police chiefs ordered them to wear uniforms when attempting undercover operations.
Apparently, the Federal Air Marshal Service has a dress code for the air marshals who randomly fly aboard commercial flights. As a result, the guy in the sport coat or business suit in coach sticks out like a sore thumb.
The Washington Times reported recently that marshals had avoided complying with the dress code until this Thanksgiving. That's when Thomas Quinn, director of the marshal service, saw about two dozen marshals at Reagan National Airport in Washington who were casually dressed.
Quinn reportedly called for compliance with the rigid dress code. Sources said some marshals were threatened with suspension.
A House Judiciary Committee is investigating the dress code. Congress even addressed it in a portion of the intelligence bill recently signed by President George W. Bush. The legislation directs the Department of Homeland Security to take steps to ensure the anonymity of air marshals.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service has been denying there is a problem. Appearing recently on Fox News, Dave Adams said marshals are not required to wear "coats or ties." Reports that they were are "patently false."
Yet on May 9, 2002, Quinn issued National Directive FLT 6002, establishing "standards of dress required of federal air marshals," which included "a business suit or sport coat with dress pants and tie, or sports coat with dress pants and collared shirt."
Another memo from the New York field office issued Dec. 3 said, "All FAMS transiting to Washington, D.C., will wear a tie."
The same day, the Miami field office issued a memo setting the "minimum" dress requirement of a "sports coat." There can be no mistake that the coat is to be worn on duty: "Your coat is not to be folded and stored in your carryon bag - it is to be worn."
Also on the same day, this memo was issued from the Boston field office: "A business suit, or sport coat with dress pants and tie, or sport coat with dress pants and collared shirt are considered appropriate for wear."
When three field offices scattered across the country issue similar memos on the same day, it's an indication that someone in Washington must have issued some orders.
The conspicuous dress has been a contentious issue with marshals and aircraft pilots for some time. In August, Airline Pilots Security Alliance spokesman Brian Darling said, "The biggest advantage the air marshal program gives us is terrorists not knowing whether marshals are on board. If you dress them out of 'Men in Black,' we've lost the element of surprise."
Darling added, "I don't think anyone expects al-Qaida to come aboard wearing long robes and burqas. If the terrorists understand the need to blend in, why doesn't the director of the Federal Air Marshal Service?"
The service acknowledges there is a dress code, but it won't produce it, saying it is "security-sensitive information."
It may be, but it's no secret.

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