According to the prosecutor, a cooperating witness had delivered 15 kilograms of cocaine and $15,000 to Nguyen's home last Thursday, and the two air marshals "had agreed to use their official positions as air marshals to bypass security at Bush Intercontinental Airport and smuggle the cocaine aboard a flight bound for Las Vegas." First assistant US Attorney Don DeGabrielle said, "We expect and demand that our law enforcement officials will themselves abide by the laws that they are sworn to uphold. The abuse of the badge will not be tolerated." The two men are not yet required to enter pleas, and their attorneys could not be reached for comment.
The incident comes only two months after two marshals shot and killed a man who claimed falsely, as it turned out to have a bomb while boarding an airplane in Miami. Although the official results of an investigation will not be complete until late spring, it is expected to conclude that the agents acted appropriately in their dealings with the passenger.
The arrest in Houston is a shock to an agency that plays an important role in aviation security. Although there have been air marshals flying for decades, on Sept. 11, 2001, the numbers had dwindled to only three dozen agents. After the attacks, the agency was drastically increased in size and many agents were drafted from other law enforcement agencies and local police departments. New agents were and are subject to security screening and background checks similar to other federal law enforcement agencies, which are required to be updated only every five years.
Critics said the rush to expand allowed too many inexperienced men and women into the service, and there were reports of marshals clashing with airline personnel or other law enforcement agents. Aviation sources say the agency has spent the last few years weeding out poor performers, but the indictment of the two agents in Houston is sure to further stoke those concerns.