http://www.cnsnews.com//ViewNation.asp?Page=\Nation\archive\200401\NAT20040126b.html Exclusive: TSAs Email Threat Last Straw for Congressman By Jeff Johnson CNSNews.com Senior Staff Writer January 26, 2004 (CNSNews.com) - A sponsor of the anti-terrorism legislation aimed at arming commercial airline pilots against hijackers says a threatening email uncovered as part of a CNSNews.com investigation into the implementation of that program, is "the final straw." U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) plans to introduce legislation, "right away," along with House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and as many as 50 co-sponsors, to force major changes in the program. The proposal would primarily remove most of the Transportation Security Administration's influence over what is formally known as the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) is expected to introduce an identical bill in the Senate. The email message Wilson cited, which CNSNews.com obtained from confidential sources, threatened participants of the FFDO program with fines and dismissal if they shared "sensitive" information about the program with members of Congress, other law enforcement officials or the media. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had sent the email to FFDOs one day after a CNSNews.com special report was published detailing numerous criticisms about how TSA is administering the program. "The final straw was the email restricting [FFDOs] from communicating their point of view with Congress," Wilson said, "which apparently was in response to [the CNSNews.com ] article." The email, he added, represents "an effort to chill the discussion of this issue, which, instead of chilling my interest only piques it more." The message was labeled with the subject line "Unauthorized Disclosure of Sensitive Security Information (SSI)." "Recent public disclosure of SSI by FFDO's in the media, to law enforcement gatherings and congressmen is most alarming and a serious breach of security," the message stated, warning that such disclosures "must be referred to TSA Internal Affairs for investigation." "Failure to properly protect SSI," the message concluded, "may lead to removal from the FFDO program and civil fines." CNSNews.com provided a copy of the message to Wilson, Mica and other lawmakers. David Schaffer, senior counsel to Mica's subcommittee, said Mica believes the message went beyond merely encouraging FFDOs to properly safeguard "Sensitive Security Information" from public disclosure. "The thing that concerns Mr. Mica is the implication that people aren't supposed to talk to Congress, which, of course, he takes strong exception to," Schaffer said. Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, believes the email was an obvious attempt to intimidate FFDOs, to discourage them from telling Congress about how TSA has implemented the program. He accused TSA of "having a tantrum." "TSA's idea of security really needs to be addressed, because, to them, security is a code word for covering up dirty linen," Pratt said. "Actually, they make us less secure because of their idea of security." TSA accused of erecting 'one roadblock after another' to arming pilots Wilson called the TSA's implementation of the FFDO program a "knee-jerk liberal reaction" against the idea of arming pilots to protect their passengers and fellow crewmembers from terrorist hijackings. "At every step there has been an effort by the TSA to sabotage the ability of pilots to be armed," Wilson said. "There has been one roadblock after another to make it unworkable." Among the pilots' complaints were the content and nature of required psychological evaluations and numerous alleged safety risks created by the TSA requirement that they carry their weapons in a locked box rather than in a holster on their person. Pilots also complained about "veiled threats" by the TSA to disclose adverse information uncovered during background investigations to their employers or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) even if the information was unrelated to their fitness as pilots. The remote location of the TSA's single approved training facility and the agency's refusal to issue FFDOs badges, even though they are sworn federal law enforcement officers, were also of concern to some FFDOs. Schaffer told CNSNews.com that Mica shares Wilson's uneasiness about TSA's implementation of the program. "The subcommittee is concerned that the TSA has made it more difficult for pilots to participate than we had intended," Schaffer said. "It's more the totality of the requirements rather than any particular one," Schaffer said. "We wanted them to establish the program in a way that would facilitate pilot participation, not make it so that they have to jump through a lot of hoops and go over a lot of hurdles in order to get there." Schaffer said those "hoops" and "hurdles" have had an obvious effect. "My understanding is that, when Congress was considering the legislation, the number of pilots who expressed an interest was in the range of 40,000, but that not nearly that many have actually applied to participate," Schaffer said. "We think the reason for that is because of the hurdles that have been placed in their way." The Airline Pilots Security Alliance (APSA), a group created to promote the program, created an online registry for pilots who wanted to volunteer. Nearly 40,000 commercial airline pilots signed up. But sources tell CNSNews.com that TSA's official registry for the FFDO program, created after details of its implementation became public, has generated only about 5,000 applicants. TSA initially agreed to an interview about the pilots' allegations but abruptly terminated that interview when asked about specific allegations concerning Sensitive Security Information. Proposed legislation would remove TSA discretion over arming pilots The pilots and Pratt appear to be getting their wish. Wilson and Bunning are poised to introduce the "Cockpit Security Technical Corrections and Improvements Act of 2004." The legislation removes almost all discretion from TSA as to which pilots may participate in the program and what requirements TSA may impose on them. A draft copy of the proposal obtained by CNSNews.com stipulates that any commercial pilot who is employed by a passenger or cargo airline, holds a current FAA passenger or cargo pilot's certificate and is not barred from receiving or possessing a firearm by the Federal gun Control Act would automatically be qualified. The draft also notes that possession of the required pilot's certificate indicates that the applicant "thereby meets all mental and physical requirements," to apply for the program. Once a qualified pilot completes the mandatory firearms training, which the proposal requires to be offered "in places throughout the United States so as to be convenient to pilots from all regions," that pilot "shall be qualified as a Federal Flight Deck Officer and shall be deputized as such." Schaffer said eliminating the "hurdles" complained about by the pilots, as is proposed in the legislation, should encourage many more pilots to volunteer for the FFDO program. "The more hurdles you set up the more you discourage someone from participating," Schaffer explained. "Whereas each individual hurdle might not be a show-stopper in itself, if you establish enough hurdles people tend to say, 'the heck with this, it's not worth the trouble.'" But the plan also includes specific provisions that would deputize and arm hundreds, if not thousands of pilots almost immediately. The Undersecretary of Transportation for Security would be required to immediately deputize as a Federal Flight Deck Officer any pilot who met the employment, FAA certificate and Federal Gun Control Act requirements if that pilot is: - An active or reserve member of the Unites States Armed Forces; - A former active or reserve member of the Unites States Armed Forces, discharged other than dishonorably; or - A current or former federal, state or local law enforcement officer. Pilots deputized under this provision would be required to complete the TSA approved firearms training within 120 days, but would immediately be eligible to be armed, upon submission of proof of completing the firearms training course mandated by their military branch or law enforcement agency. Wilson estimates that up to 70 percent of commercial passenger and cargo airline pilots would instantly qualify under those guidelines. "That would be a deterrent," Wilson said. The legislation would also address the pilots' fears regarding the disclosure of personal information. It forbids the TSA from releasing any information about applicants to the program except as necessary to fulfill its requirements. The language of the bill specifically prohibits TSA from telling an airline if the program rejects one of their pilots. Any pilot who is rejected has an automatic right of appeal to the Undersecretary of Transportation for Security and, if that appeal is rejected, to the federal district court nearest the pilot's home or crew base. Provisions of bill would expressly define FFDOs authority and rights Nearly a full page of the proposed legislation relates to the powers and privileges to be granted to FFDOs. The language of those proposals runs almost counter to the manner in which TSA is currently operating the FFDO program. FFDOs would have the same authority as Federal Air Marshals to "carry a loaded firearm concealed on or about such officer's person.;" TSA would be forbidden from requiring FFDOs to "carry or transport a firearm in a locked bag, box or container;" The highest ranking FFDO on an aircraft would automatically be considered to be the highest ranking law enforcement officer on board; TSA would be required to issue FFDOs "metallic badges" similar to those issued to all other federal law enforcement officers; FFDOs would receive specific authorization for "acting reasonably to prevent an act of terrorism when outside the cockpit of an aircraft;" TSA would be required, because of the mandate that firearms training be conducted "in places throughout the United States so as to be convenient to pilots from all regions," to approve a number of private firearms training facilities to accommodate FFDOs; Airlines would be required to give pilots time off with pay to complete the firearms training and to provide space-available seating on their flights at no cost to FFDO candidates for travel to and from that training; and FFDOs would be specifically authorized to disclose any information about the program to any member of Congress, negating orders to the contrary in the TSA email. "I want to take all prudent actions we can to protect American citizens from hijackings, and this is so prudent," Wilson said. "And it can be done immediately and it should be done ... in a pilot-friendly manner, not with roadblocks." Pratt believes the legislation is exactly what is needed to create the type of armed pilots program the American public overwhelmingly supported in polls when the idea was proposed after the 9/11 attacks. "What we've seen, we're very please with," Pratt said. Capt. Tracy Price, an advisor to the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, agreed. "This is the precise solution to the illness that ails the FFDO program," Price said. "We can't have an effective FFDO program if it's going to be continually meddled with and muddled by government bureaucrats," Price continued. "This legislation takes that discretion away." Pratt also predicted that the legislation would pass without too much opposition. "Members of Congress are still flying planes with the same regularity they did at the time of September 11th. So, I think that, unlike a lot of issues where they enact a law and just never revisit it, they revisit this one once a week." Wilson echoed that sentiment. "We fly frequently, sometimes all day, sometimes back to back all day," Wilson said. "I want to take every reasonable and common sense step that we can to protect the American public." Wilson said he also plans to contact Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, whose department oversees TSA, to ask him to implement the provisions of the bill by regulation, until Congress can pass the legislation. "Persons who have a practical common sense understanding of the issue can only come to one conclusion," Wilson said, "and that is that arming pilots enhances the safety of an airplane and the passengers." Multiple calls to TSA Friday requesting an interview for this article were not returned.