Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, showed horrible judgment last week with a press release slamming Federal Air Marshal whistleblowers and Rep. John Sensenbrenner (R-WI) for "stale allegations" which Thompson claims "undermine efforts to secure our skies. (pdf)" Scores of air marshals have been raising concerns for years internally, and now publicly, about dangerous agency policies inside the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), which threaten their anonymity, and thus their ability to avoid being preemptively identified by terrorists hijacking a plane. FAMS is part of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the Department of Homeland Security.
Something is wrong with Congressional oversight when a ranking member chooses to believe the leadership of a highly troubled agency because they send one letter (pdf) in response (pdf), over the recently and repeatedly confirmed allegations of numerous rank and file employees. Of course, agency leaders will predictably seek to minimize embarrassment. But these air marshal whistleblowers face a very serious risk of losing their jobs by speaking out.
Thompson should take a closer look than simply taking the head of TSA at his word. To so quickly and totally dismiss what whistleblowers have to say is, at a minimum, irresponsible, but more likely it's putting Americans at more risk than they need to be. As one air marshal told me:
What we have here is a Congressman's staff being all giddy they received a letter from the TSA director, and failed to do even remotely any due diligence. A simple Google search would have eliminated 90% of what was in Thompson's press release.
What homeland security whistleblowers will now want to come to Thompson when they know he is not receptive to their concerns or diligent in investigating even already well-substantiated ones?
-- Nick Schwellenbach