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Corruption Chronicles

DHS Abruptly Replaces Air Marshal Director—Fourth Time in as Many Years

The Biden administration has abruptly—and quietly—replaced the scandal-plagued director of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), marking the fourth time in around as many years that the agency gets a new leader. Such frequent turnover at the top illustrates the instability that has prevailed at FAMS, 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.

The latest FAMS director to get ousted, Tirrell Stevenson, has been quietly replaced on an “acting” basis by Brian C. Belcher, according to an agency memo dispersed to staff a few days ago. Publicly, the move is being handled by simply eliminating Stevenson’s biography and photo on the TSA Leadership and Organization page and replacing it with Belcher’s with no further explanation. FAMS sources provided Judicial Watch with the memo informing staff that as of August 14 Belcher, a FAMS deputy executive assistant, “assumed the duties of Acting Executive Assistant Administrator (EAA)/Director for LE/FAMS.” The move was sudden, according to FAMS sources. In his short tenure—a little over a year—as FAMS director, Stevenson was reportedly embroiled in widespread wrongdoing, waste, fraud and abuse and many inside the agency have called on Congress to intervene. Stevenson’s transgressions include misusing government resources by deploying FAMS to the southern border, greatly compromising the security of the nation’s aviation system. Stevenson also removed air marshals from missions to send them to military bases for Afghan refugees.

Judicial Watch has reported extensively on the lapses, including the controversial deployments of his uniquely skilled law enforcement officers to the Mexican border to perform duties unrelated to transportation, such as welfare checks, hospital watch and chauffeuring illegal immigrants. Keep in mind that air marshals are highly trained aviation security specialists charged with protecting commercial passenger flights by deterring and countering the risk of terrorist activity. The Air Marshal National Council, which represents thousands of FAMS nationwide, has accused Stevenson and TSA Administrator David Pekoske of violating federal law and overstepping their authority for assigning the air marshals to assist the U.S. Border Patrol with the migrant crisis. Air marshals interviewed by Judicial Watch expressed outrage that they were being pulled from their critical inflight security duties to assist with the mayhem created by the Biden administration’s failed immigration policies.

Shortly after the Mexican border deployments, which sent 150-200 FAM monthly to the region, high-level DHS sources disclosed that Al Qaeda was planning attacks in the U.S. involving planes. An intelligence alert obtained by Judicial Watch warned that “Al-Qaeda says upcoming attacks on US, possibly involving planes, will use new techniques and tactics.” Hours after learning about the Al Qaeda threat, the Air Marshal National Council fired off a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as well as Pekoske and Stevenson reminding them that deploying FAMS to the southern border to perform humanitarian work is reckless and putting the nation at extreme risk. “We are once again requesting you immediately stop these dangerous and unnecessary deployments and let our FAMS do what the American taxpayers pay them to do, protect and defend our transportation system,” the letter read.

Removing yet another seemingly inept director is not going to improve the embedded problems at FAMS, many inside the agency maintain. The solution lies with Congress, says the Air Marshal National Council, which is pushing legislation it claims will help reform the agency in desperate need of new leadership. The measure is known as the Federal Air Marshal Service Reform and Reorganization Act and it would make FAMS a specialty unit within DHS’s premier law enforcement agency, Homeland Security Investigations (HIS). Getting rid of Stevenson may be a step in the right direction, but it will not be enough to turn this critical agency around, according to Homeland Security sources interviewed by Judicial Watch. “Director Stevenson is one of several prior Air Marshal Directors to be involved in scandals,” said Air Marshal National Council President David Londo. “It’s time for Congress to enact the Federal Air Marshal Reform and Reorganization Act.”


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