AP's Larry Margasak has a great story on fired federal air marshal Robert MacLean's case, which is being considered in the 9th Circuit. Go here for a compilation of resources on MacLean v. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In summer 2003, Maclean tried to blow the whistle within the DHS on an attempt to reduce air marshal coverage of "high-risk" flights amidst heightened warnings based on intelligence that terrorists were planning on hijacking planes. Nothing occurred, so he warned the public by going to the press. His disclosure helped to draw public scrutiny to the Transportation Security Agency's (TSA) ill-conceived plan which rapidly led to its reversal.
Over a year later, TSA asserted that the information he disclosed was "sensitive security information" (SSI) and then terminated him on that basis. SSI has vague standards for its use , and is one of many so-called "sensitive but unclassified" secrecy markings.
The message he
disclosed was not marked as SSI, the
often-abused information control label within DHS's Transportation
Security Administration (TSA) used to protect information--thus he was
unaware of his obligation to protect the information. For employees
dealing with traditional classified information--which is typically
much more sensitive that SSI--they must be made aware of its status so
as to protect it accordingly.
If DHS and the Justice Department succeed, these pseudo-classification markings may be abused to retroactively mark information as "sensitive" to then retaliate against whistleblowers, possibly decreasing the flow of critical information to the public.
-- Nick Schwellenbach