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Readers React: Why we need air marshals in the sky

To the editor: I am proud to serve with and lead the men and women of the Federal Air Marshal Service, and I wholeheartedly disagree with The Times. (“It’s time to ground America’s air marshals,” editorial, Oct. 29)

The United States continues to face a real and evolving threat to our aviation security. Federal air marshals are an integral part of our risk-based aviation security, and they are the last line of defense to ensure the safety of travelers.

As the threat evolves, the Air Marshal Service must adapt. In the last year, I directed a top-to-bottom review of all operational and administrative functions to make sure that we are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Our mission continues to be to detect, deter and defeat criminal and terrorist activities that target our nation’s transportation systems. We perform our core mission by deploying air marshals on U.S.-flagged aircraft throughout the world. The Air Marshal Service is unique in its ability to remain flexible and to rapidly deploy hundreds of law enforcement officers in response to specific and evolving threats.

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As Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson pointed out recently during congressional testimony, the global terrorist threat is now “more decentralized, more complex, and in many respects harder to detect.”

The U.S. aviation system is safe, and that is due to the network of federal, state and local partners working together to thwart terrorist activities. That counter-terrorism network includes federal air marshals.

Roderick Allison, Arlington, Va.

The writer is director of the Federal Air Marshal Service.

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To the editor: The Air Marshal Service is not even a “placebo.” A placebo allows a researcher to identify the effectiveness of a treatment independent from participant expectations of success. By design, the placebo is intended to have no effect but to reveal outcomes not attributable to the treatment under study.

The program instead relies on the “placebo effect.” We’re expected to believe that we are kept safe by trained eyes in the sky; that too is the deterrent for would-be assailants. But in reality the probability of flying with a marshal is very low.

There appears to be no actual study design behind the program to test it. Without a study, there is no result and of course no conclusion. Instead, Congress and the American people are presented with anecdotal observations.

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From a policy perspective, this program should have never gotten off the ground. Given the few (but very few high-profile) events, the harm simply can’t justify the program. Yes, it’s time to put this “experiment” to an end.

Mark Elliot, Beverly Hills

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