As most of you know, Audrey Hudson recently ran a piece in the Washington Times stating that current and former air marshals believed that Flight 327 (Annie Jacobsen’s “Terror in the Skies” flight) was a terrorist dry run. Some of my commenters complained that Ms. Hudson did not support this claim with a quote from a current air marshal, saying unequivocally that he thought Flight 327 was a terrorist dry run.
Today, in this post, current air marshal P. Jeffrey Black does exactly that.
Mr. Black is one of the current air marshals quoted in Ms. Hudson’s article:
Agency management was not only covering up numerous probes and dry-run encounters from Congress and other federal law-enforcement agencies, it was also hiding these incidents from their own flying air marshals,” said P. Jeffrey Black, an air marshal stationed in Las Vegas.
When Mr. Black talked about these “numerous probes and dry-run encounters,” did he mean to include Flight 327 in that description, as Ms. Hudson had implied? I asked him, and he responded with a long and interesting statement, which is reproduced below in its entirety, with Mr. Black’s permission. All emphasis and links are his:
I’d be happy to address a few of the questions submitted by your readers in regards to matters of public safety and concern.
Last year, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain a copy of the Flight 327 Inspector General’s report about the same time The Washington Times filed their FOIA request. Last week, I received my copy of the report, so yes, I have obviously reviewed the report extensively.
Do I personally believe flight 327 was a terrorist probe or dry run?
In my opinion, and based upon my experience flying hundreds of missions since 9/11, my answer is, yes it was. Do I know 100% for sure? No, of course not. Short of obtaining signed confessions from all 13 Syrian “musicians” involved, only they know for sure what their true intentions were for acting so “suspicious” during the flight. And this is exactly why the Inspector General’s report doesn’t conclude, without a doubt, that their actions were positively construed as a probe or dry run. The only people who know this for sure were allowed to freely leave the country and fly back to Syria without ever being thoroughly interrogated. And remember, a third of the Inspector General’s report is still highly redacted.
Nevertheless, many air marshal collegues I have spoken with concur with my conclusion, but don’t expect them to go public any time soon. Every air marshal that has whistleblown publicly so far has been summarily terminated one way or another. It is just a matter of time before I receive my retaliatory pink slip. I am sure there are TSA/FAMS management bureaucrats in a basement somewhere at this very moment, scheming and drawing up battle plans to attack my character and veracity. I wouldn’t expect anything less from the Transportation Security Administration.
What I do find most disturbing is that some of your readers tend to discredit the word or opinion of any Federal Air Marshal who has been terminated from the Transportation Security Administration –– for whistleblowing. Former air marshal Robert MacLean was terminated for exposing to the public a dangerous TSA/FAMS policy which removed air marshals from all cross country flights –– similar to those flights hijacked on 9/11 –– because the TSA wanted to save money by not having to pay for hotel rooms for the over-nighting of air marshals. Mr. MacLean was a former distinguished Border Patrol Agent who graduated from the very first air marshal academy class soon after the events of 9/11, and has flown more missions than most air marshals still flying today.
The public should be embracing Mr. MacLean’s ideas and opinions, and not unjustly ridiculing and labeling him as just some “disgruntled fired employee”. As all whistleblowers ultimately end up doing, Mr. MacLean sacrificed his federal career to inform the public of a government policy that seriously endangered the lives of the traveling public. Taking into account the amount of retribution and retaliation he has received from TSA for his whistleblowing activities –– he has every right to be disgruntled.
I know this first hand. In August of 2004, and just two months after the events of Northwest Flight 327, I reluctantly chose to become a whistleblower. The dangerous agency internal policies I wished to expose were so egregious, which seriously jeopardized the health and safety of every air marshal, flight crew member, and passenger, that I chose to take my disclosures straight to Congress. I gave testimony to the Chief Counsel of Oversight and Investigations, and went on the record with the House Judiciary Committee, that I had personally experienced what I believed to be numerous probing incidents aboard domestic flights, and that I believed the Federal Air Marshal Service was not only hiding the details to these incidents from other federal law enforcement agencies, but that they were also keeping this vital information from their own flying air marshals. I also had reason to believe, from speaking to other air marshals across the country, that I was not the only air marshal experiencing these probing incidents aboard domestic flights.
My testimony specifically outlined exactly what I had experienced on my mission flights –– and the Committee staffers were shocked at what they heard. In response to my testimony, in addition to other information it had received from other sources, the House Judiciary Committee just four weeks later, sent FAMS Director Thomas Quinn, a seven page letter questioning not only the number of probes air marshals had been allegedly experiencing, but also in regards to numerous other internal policies I had informed the Committee about, that were additionally endangering the flying public. Some of these other dangerous policies included: forcing air marshals to adhere to a formal dress code, substandard procedures for air marshals bypassing security checkpoints, forcing air marshals to conspicuously board aircraft in full view of waiting passengers, and requiring air marshals to use over-powered non-frangible ammunition aboard aircraft.
After numerous delays, in October of 2004, the Federal Air Marshal Service finally submitted a 29-page letter responding to the questions raised by the House Judiciary Committee. In May of 2006, the Committee concluded their inquiry and released their Investigative Report entitled “In Plane Sight” (highly redacted).
Numerous federal air marshals, pilots, flight attendants, passengers, and terrorism experts, all believe in their humble opinions, that Northwest Flight 327 was in fact a terrorist probe or dry run. Yet, the management and bureaucratic “experts” in the Transportation Security Administration and in the upper echelon of the Federal Air Marshal Service, who lack any prior aviation security experience whatsoever, tell you that it was nothing more than a few innocent tourist musicians with expired visas, visiting from a terrorist sponsoring country, and who were doing nothing more than acting a bit “suspicious”.
So what is the moral of this story? Never depend on your government to save your life. It is the public citizen who is our first line of defense –– the John Does –– not the federal government. Stay vigilant.
P. Jeffrey Black