Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Air marshals nervous at `undercover' dress rules

TERROR MEASURES The officers say that you don't have to be a terrorist to spot undercover guards who wear inappropriate clothes aboard an aircraft

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

Beards are out. So are jeans and athletic shoes. Suit coats are in, even on the steamiest summer days.

That dress code, imposed by the US Department of Homeland Security, makes federal air marshals uneasy -- and not just because casual clothes would be more comfortable in cramped airline seats. The marshals fear that their appearance makes it easier for terrorists to identify them, according to a professional group representing more than 1,300 air marshals.

"If a 12-year-old can pick them out, a trained terrorist has no problem picking them out," said John Amat, a spokesman for the group, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

Documents and memorandums issued by the Department of Homeland Security and field offices of the Federal Air Marshal Service say air marshals must "present a professional image" and "blend unnoticed into their environment." Some air marshals have argued that the two requirements are contradictory.

Federal air marshals must have neatly trimmed hair and men must be clean-shaven, the documents say. Some of the service's 21 field offices have mandated that male officers wear suits, ties and dress shoes while on duty, even in summer heat. Women are required to wear blouses and skirts or dress slacks. Jeans, athletic shoes and non-collared shirts are prohibited.

In April, the officers' group sent a letter to members of the US Congress saying that the "military-style grooming standards and a blanket `sports coat' dress policy," along with conspicuous boarding procedures, jeopardize the safety of air marshals.

At least two airline industry unions, the Allied Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants, have publicly backed the assertions of the officers' group.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Senator Herb Kohl said that he became aware of the issue when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contacted his office after one of its reporters spotted several air marshals in the Milwaukee airport. The spokeswoman, Lynn Becker, said that the senator was working with the director of the Federal Air Marshal Service, Thomas Quinn, primarily to address the boarding procedures, but that they were also discussing the dress code issue.

Since May, the Air Marshal Service has changed the check-in procedure for its air marshals, no longer requiring them to sign a logbook when they board.

The Federal Air Marshal Service acknowledges that a dress code for its marshals does exist, but it will not give many specifics, saying that it is "security sensitive information."

But Dave Adams, a spokesman for the service, said, "There is nothing in the policy that says we have to wear a suit and tie" and "there is nothing in the policy that places our federal air marshals at risk."

Adams said that the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association "is misrepresenting our dress code policy."

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