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Corruption Chronicles

New Air Marshal Deputy Director Investigated for “Unethical and Illegal” Behavior as Amtrak Police Chief

In a perplexing move the Biden administration has appointed a controversial figure investigated for fraud and conflict of interest as head of a federal law enforcement agency as deputy director of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). The assignment comes less than a year after the administration replaced the scandal-plagued director at the agency, which operates under the beleaguered Transportation Security Administration (TSA), created after 9/11 to prevent another terrorist attack. Both function under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and have been rocked by controversy and mismanagement that has left the nation vulnerable from a security standpoint, according to multiple DHS sources interviewed by Judicial Watch over the years.

When the administration quietly replaced the last FAMS director in August 2023, it marked the fourth time in around as many years that the agency got a new leader. Such frequent turnover at the top illustrates the instability that has prevailed at FAMS, a critical agency charged with protecting commercial passenger flights by deterring and countering the risk of terrorist activity, aircraft piracy and other crimes to protect the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Agents are highly trained aviation security specialists and many have expressed frustration over severe mismanagement that includes a special “VIP” program that pulled them off of high risk flights to provide certain members of Congress with extra protection on flights that failed to meet the threat criteria. The skilled law enforcement officers were also deployed to the Mexican border to perform duties unrelated to transportation, such as welfare checks, hospital watch and chauffeuring illegal immigrants. Under the most recently ousted director, Tirrell Stevenson, air marshals were also removed from missions and sent to military bases for Afghan refugees.

The recent appointment as deputy director of a law enforcement official with a sordid past has rattled many inside FAMS and raises questions about the criteria to qualify for the top-secret clearance required for the position. Her name is Pauline (Polly) Hanson and she once served as chief of the Amtrak Police, a federal law enforcement agency of about 500 charged with protecting the nation’s railroad system. As Amtrak police chief Hanson was investigated for “unethical and illegal” behavior after awarding her then live in boyfriend’s company a million-dollar counterterrorism contract to train officers in her agency. Hanson was directly involved in the process for awarding the contract, according to federal court documents filed by the Inspector General for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation and failed to disclose her romantic and financial ties to the company’s senior director, Kerry Thomas. The new FAMS deputy director lawyered up and fought in court to limit investigators’ access to her bank records and when a judge ordered her to turn them over, she resigned as chief of the Amtrak Police. Hanson has also served as chief of Metro Transit Police in the District of Columbia and executive director of the D.C. Police’s strategic service bureau.

This week Judicial Watch fired off two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests—to TSA and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation Inspector General—asking for details about Hanson’s criminal and ethical investigation as Amtrak Police Chief, subsequent resignation and communications exchanged between the Amtrak Inspector General and the DHS and TSA regarding the new FAMS deputy director. Judicial Watch also requests Hanson’s employment history and administrative investigations as well as documents acknowledging or approving her security clearance authorization and DHS-TSA application forms and employment contracts. “It is not clear how this person could get a top-secret clearance with her background,” said Sonya Hightower-LaBosco, a retired air marshal who serves as executive director of the Air Marshal National Council, a union that represents thousands of officers nationwide. “She has a dark past,” Hightower-LaBosco confirmed.

The Air Marshal National Council has asked the DHS Inspector General to reopen Hanson’s investigation to ensure she is eligible to hold a position of public trust and top-secret security clearance. “Hanson abruptly resigned while under investigation before that investigation could come to a conclusion on whether or not she violated ethical and possible criminal laws,” the complaint to the DHS watchdog states, adding that in her current position Hanson will ultimately be in charge of all purchasing and contracts for FAMS. “If the allegations are true this is akin to letting the fox into the hen house,” the Air Marshal National Council writes.


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