- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

With the Iraqi conflict ending, the threat to America may intensify from vengeful, shadowy terrorists. But to hear it from one of our country's leading experts on aviation security that part of the federal bureaucracy charged with assuring air travelers are safe rather than just inconvenienced, is AWOL. According to Bogdan Dzakovic, a member of the Federal Aviation Administration's former elite "Red Team," terrorists like those of September 11, 2001, can still easily breach airports security checkpoints, both here and abroad.
For years before September 11, Mr. Dzakovic and other members of the elite group charged with conducting undercover tests to probe vulnerabilities in airport security had been warning FAA officials: lax conditions, sustained by senior bureaucrats' penchant for protecting the airlines' corporate interests, made passengers sitting ducks for terrorists.
In March, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the independent federal agency that acts on whistleblower disputes, upheld Mr. Dzakovic's charges that FAA's leadership was "fully aware of the vulnerabilities" that the Red Team had uncovered, but endangered the public by refusing to act. Haunted by the deaths of 3,000 Americans, Mr. Dzakovic went public to charge that the FAA covered up pre-September 11 results that reflected poorly on the airline industry, such as being defeated by the mock terrorist attacks 90 percent of the time. Instead, he detailed how the Red Team was ordered to stop testing or not return, and the bureaucracy started providing advance warnings of their arrival and targets.
In a letter to President Bush, Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan said an investigation confirmed the "Red Team was grossly mismanaged and that the result was … a substantial danger to public safety." The OSC concluded that a Department of Transportation (DOT) report she ordered into his charges "appears reasonable" about strengthening air safety, but is unreasonable about personal accountability of FAA officials responsible for the security breakdown. That means the report flunks minimum statutory standards.
"Appears reasonable" doesn't cut it, either. The FAA perfected the art of maintaining false appearances before September 11. Last year, federal airport security duties were taken over by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In a letter to Ms. Kaplan, TSA chief James Loy assured the special counsel that "the days of the old FAA Red Team are gone." As Mr. Dzakovic reported, "It has been replaced by a Pink Team that now concentrates on paper audits handicapped to novice-screener skill levels, instead of mock terrorist raids."
Knowledgeable observers say that TSA's changes have made passengers miserable but carefully avoided disrupting lax airline routines. An investigation of Mr. Dzakovic's charges by the Government Accountability Project (GAP), the Washington-based whistleblower protection organization representing him, revealed that every whistleblower and witness GAP has interviewed in the year and a half after the September 11 tragedy say that the airports are not safer.
What's more, if Mr. Dzakovic's treatment at TSA is any reflection of Mr. Loy's credibility, America's airline passengers are in trouble. He also reassured that Mr. Dzakovic had been assigned a new position where he could fully utilize his talents. In reality, he answers an airport graveyard shift's emergency phone, where he must wake someone else to act if anything goes wrong. His replacements are gagged from talking with him and picking up six years of lessons learned. The OSC's Ms. Kaplan has pledged to continue investigating ongoing retaliation.
"There is a very conscious and deliberate mismanagement of aviation security," Mr. Dzakovic told USA Today, "and the real investigation should be, why did they do this? Three thousand people are dead. My career is basically over. And for what? No one is held accountable."
In upcoming weeks, new federal legislation will be introduced to revive the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), a law twice passed unanimously by Congress but gutted and rewritten by a hostile federal court of appeals with a monopoly on judicial review. At this point, it is a Trojan horse, creating more reprisal victims than it helps.
Those judges apparently do not travel by airplane, nor worry about what whistleblower harassment means to the safety of their countrymen. National-security whistleblowers are modern Paul Reveres, exercising the freedom to warn. But, defensive bureaucrats currently can exile or silence them on the job, at will. If our leaders have learned the tragic lessons of September 11, they will enact genuine, enforceable rights protecting patriots who risks their careers for our country.

Tom Devine is legal director of the Government Accountability Project and counsel for Bogdan Dzakovic. Martin Edwin Andersen received the federal services' highest award for whistleblowing after he disclosed egregious security violations by senior staff at Janet Reno's Justice Department.



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