GAP has seen a multitude of Airline Safety whistleblowers come to the organization in recent years. These individuals have exposed numerous lapses in public safety that the TSA and FAA should have corrected long ago. However, the agencies have chosen to retaliate against their own workers for performing their important job duties. Descriptions of selected cases appear below.
Gabe Bruno was a former FAA Manager of the Orlando Flight Standards District Office. He alleged that the FAA lacks a national security screening mechanism for certain mechanics that received fraudulent certificates from an FAA Designated Mechanic Examiner, but have refused to fully complete a recertification program. This failure creates a security vulnerability that leaves the aviation industry open to potential terrorist activity.
The basis of Bruno’s national security disclosure was a list of these mechanics in question. One such mechanic’s name on the list is the same name as a 9/11 hijacker, and 33 others share the same P.O. Box number in Saudi Arabia. Bruno further alleged that this failure to reexamine, screen, or account for the individuals who received fraudulent certificates creates a national security and public safety risk, as these individuals may currently be working for commercial airlines.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the federal agency charged with investigating federal employee whistleblower disclosures, informed Bruno in 2009 that it found his disclosures revealed a “substantial likelihood that serious safety concerns persist in the management and operation of the certification and management programs at FAA.”
Bogdan Dzakovic was a former leader of the FAA’s counter-terrorism unit ‘Red Team’ which, prior to 9/11, tested aviation security in airports around the world. The security systems failed around 75-90 percent of the time, but the FAA censored any written records of the failures, and banned retesting. After the attacks, the Red Team was grounded.
Dzakovic filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the OSC, which eventually ruled in favor of his allegation, stating that the FAA executed its civil aviation security mission in a manner that “was a substantial and specific danger to public safety.” Furthermore, not one person was held accountable for these actions – many of the involved employees and managers were rewarded.
But OSC disclosures, and their results, take time. When the TSA was created and took over airline security duties in the wake of the attacks, Dzakovic was retaliated against in the first week of its existence and reduced to performing administrative work.
Federal Air Marshal (FAM) Robert MacLean’s experience demonstrates the ongoing, critical need to codify the anti-gag statute. In 2003, MacLean revealed a cost-cutting plan to cancel FAM coverage from long distance flights on the eve of a confirmed al-Qaeda suicidal hijacking plan. The plan never went into effect after Congress protested – based solely on his whistleblowing disclosure.
Three years later, however, TSA fired him with a single charge of “Unauthorized Disclosure of Sensitive Security Information” (SSI) - an unclassified “hybrid secrecy” label the TSA retroactively applied to the information that he disclosed.
MacLean’s case is ongoing. But it should be noted that the attempted 2009 Christmas bombing by an Al-Qaeda agent is the exact same type of flight the MacLean blew the whistle on – a flight that did not have a FAM on it. Weeks after the attack, an anonymous TSA official shared with the media that FAMs were not on the NW253 because of “budget issues.”
Frank Terreri joined the Federal Air Marshals Service (FAMS) out of a sense of patriotic duty following the 9/11 attacks, after 15 years of service as a law enforcement officer. Terreri’s efforts to improve policies that jeopardized the agency’s mission were met with nonstop retaliatory investigations of him and a gag order on further disclosures, while his air travel and security concerns have been ignored.
Terreri disclosed numerous security problems on behalf of 1,500 air marshals in his capacity as president of their association. He questioned policies that could help identify air marshals working undercover, including:
- mandatory displays of the air marshal’s credentials in full view of the public – first at the ticket counter, and then again at the gate prior to departure
- predictable boarding procedures and static seating patterns that allow potential hijackers to easily determine which of the flight’s passengers could be an air marshal.
- hotel policies that led to the air marshals being publicly advertised as the hotel chain’s “Organization of the Month”
Terreri also challenged air marshal management’s endorsement of at least six national news segments that revealed the methods agents use to respond to a hijacking – which could provide terrorists a tactical advantage during a hijacking.
Terreri was vindicated by the OSC in 2006 when it found a “substantial likelihood” that “FAMS management has failed to fully protect the anonymity of Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) by actively employing policies which result in their public identifications as FAMs.”