This site respects your privacy. GAP will not record your IP address or browser information. A detailed privacy statement can be found here.
Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Office of Special Counsel Backs Whistleblower on Further Aviation Security Breakdowns

February 08, 2018
Printer-friendly version

Office of Special Counsel Backs Whistleblower on Further
Aviation Security Breakdowns

WASHINGTON, DC - The federal government’s watchdog whistleblower agency, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), has found a substantial likelihood that Federal Air Marshal Robert MacLean is correct about serious, ongoing aviation security violations. During his first week on the job after a Supreme Court victory, Mr. MacLean discovered and disclosed that key post-9/11 reforms have not been implemented – for instance, the creation of secondary barriers between the passengers and the cockpit, and the installment of cockpit doors that open in to the cabin, which reduces the risk of a terrorist attack.

Under 5 U.S.C. § 1213, the OSC can order an agency head to investigate and report back after finding a substantial likelihood that the whistleblower is correct. On January 18, 2018, Special Counsel Henry Kerner issued that order to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Mr. MacLean won the nation’s first Supreme Court decision testing the Whistleblower Protection Act. DHS's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) fired him for using restricted Sensitive Security Information to warn the public that the TSA’s Federal Air Marshals Service (FAMS) was planning to remove air marshals from transcontinental flights – the ones targeted during a confirmed 2003 Al Qaeda plan for another terrorist attack. MacLean’s whistleblowing forced DHS to restore protection for passengers, and the hijacking was prevented. However, the agency fired him for releasing its secret orders to cancel FAM coverage, and he was exiled from law enforcement for over a decade until the Supreme Court backed him in a January 2015 7-2 victory.

Mr. MacLean explained why he risked renewed retaliation right after returning:

 “Since 2011, disturbing findings in a secret study report have been concealed from rank-and-file air marshals and trainers about the danger of not having barriers when a pilot unlocks the cockpit door during flight. For a successful attack, one unarmed person only needs to take advantage once. Thanks to Special Counsel Henry Kerner, he or she may not get that chance.”

MacLean’s attorney, GAP Legal Director Tom Devine, commented:

“This is still further vindication for a real public servant. In 2003, Mr. MacLean’s courageous whistleblowing may have changed the course of history by preventing the TSA from abandoning the public during a planned rerun of 9/11. Since returning, he repeatedly has caught and sought action against life-threatening terrorist vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, TSA’s main priority has been trying to force him out of the government. Hopefully, TSA will shift its priorities from revenge against a whistleblower to protecting the public.”

Contact: Tom Devine, GAP Legal Director
Phone: (202) 457-0034 ext. 124

Government Accountability Project

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


Report waste, fraud or illegality Be a whistleblower
Sign Up for the Latest Whistleblower news

Connect with us: