Biles’ (The United States Federal Air Marshal Service: A Historical Perspective, 1962-2012, 2013) latest is the story of his time as a Federal Air Marshal dealing with misconduct among managers and a lack of proper training for air marshals.
When Biles was training at the Federal Air Marshal Training Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he noticed politics affecting the way in which recruits were trained—a more basic Practical Pistol Course was all that was required, while the notoriously more difficult Triple Nickel course was banned. He attributed the political interference to the academy’s proximity to Washington, D.C. But on the opposite coast, the San Francisco field office ultimately encountered the same problems, as D.C. opportunists took on supervisory positions and negated marshals’ anonymity while on the job by trying to enforce a dress code. A fed-up Clay filed a complaint when a mission flight was concocted for a supervisor’s personal trip, and it wasn’t long before his superiors retaliated. Biles’ account is certainly critical of the Federal Air Marshal Service; he most often condemns substandard training for recruits and policies that demand uniformity (wearing suits or sporting close-cropped hair), making air marshals easier to spot among passengers. But it’s just as much a story of Clay’s firsthand experience as an air marshal, some of it almost lighthearted, like his first mission: a London flight that was predominantly uneventful. Consequently, there are broad denunciations of FAMS (the suggestion that pre-9/11 air marshals were much better trained for combating potential hijackers) coupled with more centralized concerns (incompetence or corruption at the San Francisco office is dependent upon the ever-changing supervisors). Interestingly, the most dramatic elements of the book have no real connection to FAMS; for example, dreams that plagued Clay, involving his friend Mike, whom Clay had known from his security contract work overseas. Mike was killed in an explosion in Baghdad, and Clay was burdened with guilt because he’d helped his friend secure a job. The novel includes numerous homophobic slurs, usually to express contempt in general and not directed at gay people; these are blurted out by others, though, and never from Clay, who makes it clear that he isn’t discriminatory.
An engaging, personal account from within the Federal Air Marshal Service, and not quite as scathing as readers might think.