In 2003, Federal Air Marshal Robert MacLean learned that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was planning to make up for budget shortfalls by temporarily canceling long-distance air marshall coverage, including during a known threat on the anniversary of 9/11. MacLean brought his concerns to a supervisor and three DHS Office of Inspector General field offices, but they all declined to act and told him to drop the issue.
With no other options for accountability, MacLean blew the whistle. As a result of the subsequent public outcry and congressional pressure, the DHS withdrew the plan. For months, MacLean’s supervisors were aware of his disclosures and he was clear to fly armed air marshal missions. But in 2005, the retaliation began. The DHS placed MacLean on administrative leave pending an “Unauthorized Disclosure of Sensitive Security Information” charge despite the fact that the information he disclosed was not classified as such. A year later, MacLean was fired. It wasn’t until four months after MacLean’s termination that the DHS retroactively classified the information he disclosed as Sensitive Security Information. Government Accountability Project represented MacLean throughout his lengthy legal battle before the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Federal Circuit, and ultimately the Supreme Court. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of MacLean and affirmed that his disclosures were covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act.