Apparently the air marshals out there are not as anonymous as people would like to think.
A report by the House Judiciary Committee cited several policies and practices which work at odds with the stated policy of the air marshals being undercover.
As a Flight Attendant, I see air marshals on a near daily basis, and, like many of my regular passengers, there are some I recognize by sight. But 9 times out of 10, even when I don't know them, I can pick them out in the boarding area. Perhaps this is what the Judiciary Committee is critical of. And they should be.
Some of the practices under critical review include:
Dress code: It is believed that the fairly strict and conservative dress code actually draws attention to the air marshals, rather than allowing them to blend in with other passengers. I'd say this one is probably an obvious issue -- after all, who dresses up to travel any more?!
Hotel: Evidently the marshals are required to stay at designated hotel, probably much in the same way that flight crews do, and are required to show their credentials at the front desk. I know how obvious we are in checking in, so I would imagine it is for the marshals as well. Nothing screams out "here I am" more than flashing credentials. (Well, maybe flashing a gun.) It's reported that one hotel (Sheraton Fort Lauderdale - Airport) even designated the air marshal service as the "company of the month" at their hotel. Oh yeah, that will guarantee anonymity.
Boarding: It's believed that the boarding process gives away the identify of the marshals. While I'm not in the boarding area to pay attention to this process, I'll grant that it may have validity.
I'm not entirely convinced that the success of the air marshal program depends on the marshals eing anonymous. But, if that's the stated policy, it's a good idea to have practices that support, rather than work against, it.
It will be interesting to see what Congress does with the report, and if any changes are made to the program.