The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has ordered an investigation into two major aviation security breakdowns disclosed by Air Marshal and Transportation Security Agency (TSA) whistleblower Robert MacLean, assigning Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to investigate and report back on MacLean’s disclosures. MacLean uncovered that TSA does not ensure that Air Marshals and flight crews are equipped with NARCAN, the antidote for the deadly chemical carfentinal, and that TSA exempts religious food trucks from airport security inspections.
This order marks a major victory for both whistleblowers and aviation security in general, as the OSC cannot order investigations without first finding a “substantial likelihood” that the whistleblower is correct. Further, carfentanil could be America’s greatest vulnerability for airplane safety, as it is roughly 100 times more deadly than the opioid fentanyl and can be easily concealed and dispersed as an aerosol. While local law enforcement agencies routinely equip officers and staff with an effective, fast acting NARCAN antidote, TSA has not required NARCAN kits for the Federal Air Marshal Service or airport crews.
MacLean also discovered that religious food trucks are exempt from security inspections per an unwritten rule. He disclosed that the loophole could allow major terrorist attacks to proceed undisturbed. Although numerous other Federal Air Marshals have confirmed his concerns, the agency refused to take corrective action.
MacLean said of his disclosures,
“Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil are exceptionally dangerous drugs that are far too easy to obtain and sneak on to planes. At the weapons screening checkpoints, there’s too much focus on treating passengers as suicidal threats, which makes it much easier for a terrorist organization to recruit or deceive airport employees to smuggle life-threatening materials into their work area and on to a jet. Such an employee can leave the country before his or her boss notices.”
The disclosures come on the heels of additional investigations into airline security risks. Earlier this year, Special Counsel Henry Kerner ordered DHS to investigate a failure to implement two promised post-9/11 reforms: the installation of secondary barriers between passengers and flight deck cockpits, and the substitution of outward-opening doors flight deck doors for inward opening doors that enable attacks on pilots.
MacLean famously won a whistleblower case at the Supreme Court against TSA, which terminated his employment after he blew the whistle on the agency’s shortcomings in stopping an attempted 2003 re-run of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda.
Mr. MacLean’s counsel, Government Accountability Project Legal Director Tom Devine, added,
“Mr. MacLean’s record since reinstatement illustrates why America needs a Whistleblower Protection Act. Four times he has exposed aviation security breakdowns that could enable a new 9/11, and four times TSA has ignored him. Thanks to Special Counsel Henry Kerner, TSA must address these issues. The irony is that the more Mr. MacLean challenges security breakdowns, the more determined TSA is to purge him. The agency has pursued several criminal investigations of him. Not finding any basis for a criminal referral, it again has proposed to fire Mr. MacLean. Enough is enough.”
Contact: Tom Devine, Government Accountability Project Legal Director
Phone: 202-457-0034 ext. 124
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