A government report has cleared two homeland security agencies of allegations that they conducted a wide-scale “witch-hunt” to identify any employee leaking information to the media and public, MSNBC.com has learned.
The report, by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, hasn’t yet been made public. But MSNBC.com has learned it says there is no evidence that officials from the Transportation Security Administration or the Federal Air Marshal Service acted wrongly when conducting investigations into allegations that air marshals had compromised sensitive information by talking to the press or public.
However, the report did note anecdotal evidence, based on internal interviews, of intimidation of air marshals at a minority of the field offices investigators visited.
The report was prompted by a congressional request in the aftermath of an August 2003 article by MSNBC.com. The article reported on allegations by air marshals who said a “witch-hunt” was being conducted and that they were being threatened with prosecution under the Patriot Act for talking with the press, public or Congress about working conditions and situations they believed jeopardized their mission and homeland security.
The inspector general found no evidence of retaliation toward air marshals suspected of talking to the press or public, according to the report. Neither the TSA nor the Federal Air Marshal Service threatened “to take any action against air marshals under the authority of the Patriot Act,” the report says.
“We’re very pleased with the outcome of the investigation, which exonerated the Federal Air Marshal Service, stating that we did not conduct any type of witch hunt against any of our employees,” said David Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service.
Several air marshals who first raised the allegations told MSNBC.com that investigators had not talked with them.
The report says that 157 air marshals were interviewed during the course of the investigation. What percentage of air marshals that number represents isn’t known; the exact number of air marshals is classified. The agency will only acknowledge that there are “thousands” of air marshals. In addition, eight of 21 air marshal field offices were visited, according to the report.
The inspector general also interviewed supervisors and administrative personnel at various locations, including its mission operations center and headquarters.
Several air marshals contacted by MSNBC.com about the report voiced concern over the small number of their colleagues interviewed by the inspector general. They spoke only on condition of anonymity.
But Adams said: “We feel that the IG report is a fair representation of places and personnel within the federal air marshal service.”
Five marshals detail threats, report says
Of the 157 air marshals interviewed during the investigation, the report says 120 of them hadn’t felt threatened at all while seven refused to comment on the issue. The remaining 30 said they “felt they had been threatened about disclosing information to the press or the public,” the report says. However, most of those couldn’t or wouldn’t provide details about the alleged threats, “other than to say the management said they would take action against anyone disclosing information,” according to the report.
Five air marshals from two of the eight field offices visited said they were “threatened with prosecution” for talking to the public and press. “They said their supervisor's threats included being led away in handcuffs, being fired, prosecuted,” the report says. These types of alleged threats “may have been excessive,” the report says.
“They are entitled to their opinions,” Adams said of air marshals who felt intimidated at some point, “but, again, this report exonerates the air marshal service, indicating that any instances, if they did occur, were minor.”