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Former FAA Special Agent Charges TSA In Misusing SSI

Charges TSA In Misusing SSI to Avoid Embarrassment, Liability

A former FAA staffer is charging that the TSA is designating many documents as Sensitive Security Information (SSI) -- not to protect national security, but rather to hide negligence, incompetence and potential liability.

That's the word from former FAA Special Agent Brian Sullivan, who also warned in May 2001 of the risk of multiple hijackings starting from Boston Logan Airport. Now, he's joined with the 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism in urging the U.S. Senate to enact language in the House DHS Appropriations bill that would end TSA's abuses and ensure that only truly sensitive documents are labeled SSI.

"I know from first-hand experience that roughly 95 percent of the materials that are labeled SSI have no national security value and should be released to help the American people arm ourselves against future terrorist attacks," Sullivan said.

"There are only three explanations for why TSA wrongly labels so much information as SSI," Sullivan explained.

"The first is that TSA is too understaffed or too lazy to go through each document and redact the one or two paragraphs that are truly sensitive, so they place the entire piece off limits. The second is that TSA still has not put in place uniform guidelines, policies and procedures for making SSI designations. The third is that TSA is acting to protect the old FAA, the airlines and the screening companies from legal liability, a possibility that was brought into sharp relief when TSA attorney Carla Martin's alleged collusion with aviation industry attorneys was exposed during the Zacarias Moussaoui trial."

"Brian Sullivan was on the inside of the SSI process and his testimony and support proves that our mission of revealing the truth about how and why our loved ones died is not only right, but in the interest of our national security," said William Doyle of Staten Island N.Y., whose 25-year-old son Joseph died at the World Trade Center.

"This man is a truth-teller who warned about 9/11 in advance and told the FAA how vulnerable security was at Logan Airport," Doyle said.

"Anyone who fails to listen to his view that it will strengthen our security for Congress to bring TSA under control would be making the same mistake the FAA did in the spring and summer of 2001."

Sullivan was special agent and risk management specialist for the FAA in New England, where he analyzed the security vulnerabilities of airports and aviation facilities in the region. He also served as the security control point for New England and, in this capacity, received and controlled the flow of secret information, including SSI. Sullivan retired in January 2001.

"It is critical to understand that SSI is not classified information -- it is a designation for lower-level 'proprietary information,'" Sullivan said. "Ironically, all classified materials must be reviewed after a designated period of time to see if they can be released. Yet the far less sensitive SSI materials are subject to no such review. All Section 525 of the House DHS Appropriations Bill would do is apply the same process to SSI -- have the documents reviewed after three years to see if their release would pose no security threat."

Sullivan cited two specific examples of wrongly-designated SSI documents. The first was the Checkpoint Operations Guide (COG) in place on September 11, 2001. "TSA changed its airport checkpoint procedures," Sullivan asked, "so why did it stubbornly resist the COG release for four years before finally relenting?"

The second document Sullivan cited was the staff monograph on aviation security that was part of the 9/11 Commission Report. When it was first released, TSA blacked out more than 50 percent of the monograph as SSI.

Under pressure from the 9/11 families, TSA released another third of the document. Under further pressure, TSA reduced its redactions to just 2 percent of the monograph. "When you look at the pages TSA originally blacked out and finally released, it becomes obvious the only reason this material was first denied to the public was because it was embarrassing to the FAA and the airlines," Sullivan said.

"This is inexcusable," he charged. "It was my job to protect national security secrets and the last thing I would ever want is for this information to get out. But it is equally offensive to hide information that is no threat to national security just because it would invite public scrutiny or subject large corporations to legal liability. The public has the right to know so we can protect ourselves in the future. After five years of TSA intransigence, it's time to make this happen."

The provision Sullivan and the 9/11 Families urge the Senate to pass, Section 525 of the House DHS Appropriations bill, would require TSA to:

  • Release all information that is more than three years old and not incorporated in a current, active transportation security directive or plan unless TSA demonstrates a compelling reason why it would present a risk of harm to the nation;
  • Standardize and justify its practices for classifying documents as secret; and
  • Turn over documents requested by a judge in a legal proceeding unless TSA demonstrates a compelling reason why it would present a risk of harm to the nation.

Language in the DHS Appropriations Bill reported out of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, would impose no such requirements, instead giving TSA 120 days to report to Congress on the progress it has made implementing provisions in last year's appropriations bill requiring it to fix the SSI process. "No one needs another 120 days to get the job done," Sullivan said. "Congress should hold TSA accountable today!"

The 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism represents more than 6,000 survivors and family members of those who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The 9/11 Families seek to hold al Qaeda's financiers accountable for their central role in these atrocities and to make America safer by cutting off the financial pipeline fueling global terrorism.



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