OSC Finds Substantial Likelihood of National Security Vulnerability Involving Airlines

For Immediate Release

Contact: 
Dylan Blaylock
202.408.0034 ext. 137

OSC Finds Substantial Likelihood of National Security Vulnerability Involving Airlines

WASHINGTON - The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is commending the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for recently ordering Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood to investigate a whistleblowing disclosure of "gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, and substantial and specific danger to public safety at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)."

 

GAP client Gabriel Bruno, former FAA Manager of the Orlando Flight Standards District Office, alleged in November 2007 that the FAA lacks a national security screening mechanism for certain mechanics that received fraudulent certificates from Anthony St. George, an FAA Designated Mechanic Examiner (DME), but have refused to, or failed 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, which were fraudulently certified from 1995 to 1999. 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 OSC informed Bruno in a letter dated April 9, 2009 that it found that Bruno's disclosure reveals a "substantial likelihood that serious safety concerns persist in the management and operation of the certification and management programs at FAA."

 

This finding is the third of its kind by the OSC related to whistleblower disclosures by Bruno stemming from the FAA's mishandling of the St. George Aviation recertification program. Bruno filed a disclosure in June 2002 that the FAA abruptly cancelled a program implemented to reexamine these individuals. The OSC later found, in 2007, that another disclosure by Bruno illustrated that the FAA does not have a system to identify the certification or reexamination status of St. George-certified mechanics who worked on airplanes, which were involved in accidents or incidents due to mechanical problems.

 

"Mr. Bruno's whistleblower disclosure shows that the FAA not only certified incompetence but covered up a vulnerability to our national security," stated Sarah Goldmann, GAP attorney. "Some of the individuals who received certificates are of close, extremely similar background to the 9/11 hijackers. This rightful OSC finding demands an answer from the federal government to a pressing question - How many of these individuals with known fraudulent certificates are safeguarding America's flying fleet today?"

 

GAP Legal Director Tom Devine raised an even more basic question that Bruno hopes the investigation will answer: "Why didn't the FAA try to find out for seven years after 9/11 whether terrorists were fraudulently certified as commercial airplane mechanics, until a whistleblower's persistence sparked a good government agency's order?"

 

Mr. Bruno stated, "The FAA never notified the FBI, or any national security agency about the list of names of foreign residents that obtained certificates from the St. George criminal enterprise. The FAA does not have the expertise or resources to investigate national security risks. This suppression of critical information leaves us all at risk to this day."

 

Bruno, a 28 year FAA employee, was repeatedly harassed, forced into involuntarily retirement, and subjected to retaliatory investigations by the FAA because of his whistleblowing. Bruno provided written testimony about his disclosure to the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure for its April 3, 2008 hearing on the improper relationship between the FAA and the aviation industry that it is supposed to oversee.

 

Bruno, along with several other FAA whistleblowers covering all areas of FAA operations, recently formed the FAA Whistleblower Alliance - an independent organization whose aim is to bring attention to the need for FAA reform and stronger whistleblower protection laws.

 

The OSC ruling creates a structure for the FAA Administrator to base much-needed reforms on. Under the Whistleblower Protection Act, an OSC "substantial likelihood" determination triggers a process in which the DOT, which houses the FAA, is required to conduct an investigation of the allegations and report back to the Special Counsel. Bruno is allowed to comment on whether the DOT report adequately addresses his concerns. The OSC then makes another determination as to whether the DOT report has resolved the public safety issues, before forwarding the report and Bruno's comments to President Obama and appropriate congressional oversight committees.

 

The OSC letter can be viewed on GAP's website at http://www.whistleblower.org/doc/2008/brunoletter.pdf.

 

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The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is a 30-year-old nonprofit public interest group that promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. We pursue this mission through our Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food & Drug Safety, and Federal Employee/National Security programs. GAP is the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.

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