TSA Whistleblower Charges Cover-Up of Ongoing Aviation Security Breakdown

WASHINGTON – Today, former Federal Air Marshal (FAM) Robert MacLean released his November 26 rebuttal to the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) incomplete report instigated by his whistleblower disclosures. The rebuttal, a 58-page white paper, details an ongoing aviation security breakdown. Addressed to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the paper also includes a legal analysis which argues that the TSA has failed to uphold Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) standards and act on his evidence of an ongoing terrorist threat. The OSC had ordered an investigation after finding a “substantial likelihood” that MacLean had exposed an ongoing, substantial and specific threat to public health or safety.

In 2006, the TSA fired Mr. MacLean for publicly exposing that the agency had ordered Air Marshals off their posts during confirmed plans for a 2003 potential terrorist attack. His whistleblowing forced the TSA to restore coverage and prevented the attack, but the agency fired him for allegedly endangering the public by disclosing unclassified, sensitive, national security information. After a more than decade-long legal appeal under the WPA, the Supreme Court made a historic decision, rejecting MacLean’s termination and ordering that he be reinstated in a 7-2 decision. Since his reinstatement in 2015, MacLean has continued to find evidence that the agency still has not implemented post 9/11 reforms or kept pace with new threats. He blew the whistle to the Special Counsel to challenge ongoing holes in the aviation security net.

The Special Counsel ordered an investigation of four issues: 1) contrary to post-9/11 requirements, failure to replace inward-opening doors that enable terrorists to attack on the flight deck when pilots open the door; 2) related failure to install secondary barriers between passengers and the flight deck; 3) a loophole that exempts religious food trucks from all security checks at airports; and 4) failure to require NARCAN kits for FAMs and flight crews as antidotes against attacks with deadly narcotics.

The TSA retaliated against MacLean’s new whistleblowing by opening administrative and criminal investigations, ordering a psychiatric examination, removing MacLean from his duties, eventually terminating him in March 2019, and requesting criminal prosecution in response to his disclosures. MacLean is appealing his termination for the second time under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

The TSA also has responded to the OSC order for investigation with a report on the first two issues. It skips the public safety issues of failing to implement post-9/11 reforms, arguing contrary to explicit statutory requirements that all responsibility lies with the Federal Aviation Administration. It also fails to meet minimum WPA reporting requirements: it was signed by an acting TSA official rather than the DHS Secretary. Most significant, the TSA reported there would be no corrective action to better protect the public. TSA avoided Mr. MacLean’s disclosure, rather than addressing it responsibly.

MacLean’s rebuttal is an exhaustive analysis of why current security measures are hopelessly inadequate to stop another terrorists attack. Based on his experience as an Air Marshal, he details the confirmed failure of current security measures, such as relying on flight attendants or food carts as effective means to block attacks. MacLean also cites numerous, suppressed government studies that echo his concerns.

Mr. MacLean commented,

“In the 18 years since 9/11, we have yet to fix the lapse in aviation security caused when pilots exit to sleep, eat, or use the lavatory. It’s preposterous that we still expect flight attendants and drink-carts to guard unlocked cockpits.”

Tom Devine, Mr. MacLean’s lawyer, added,

“TSA can exile Mr. MacLean, but it cannot exile the basic truths of his whistleblowing disclosure: America remains as vulnerable today to terrorist attacks inside commercial aircraft as before 9/11, and our government has said it will not act.”

Contact: Katie Miller, Deputy Director of Communications

Phone: 202-457-0034 ext. 125

Email: [email protected]

Government Accountability Project

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C