license to kill
(or a great big can of worms)
By Bogdan Dzakovic, jetPilots.com, 06NOV2020
On October 29, 2018 a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max crashed killing 189 people. Already suspicions were being aroused concerning FAA complicity in the disaster. But it took another 157 to die in an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crash on March 10, 2019 for Congress to hold hearings on this latest failure of the system.
In September of 2020 the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released its damning report of these aviation disasters which “excoriates Boeing and the FAA” and which resulted from “horrific culmination of failures by Boeing and the FAA”.
But so what? There is a culture in the federal government that while bureaucracies may perform in a manner that, let us say at a minimum, is not in the interests of the tax-paying public; apparently these bureaucratic failures occur without any human involvement as no one is ever held accountable for making the decisions that directly lead to these types of tragedies.
While some sources claim that the United States commercial aviation system is one of the safest in the world, whenever a disaster does occur its certainly worth a closer examination to determine the internal mechanics of what led up to the disasters. Unfortunately, the Congress doesn’t do this. And it, in turn, leads to one bureaucratic failure after another. And the body count keeps getting higher.
Lets take a look at this history – just from an aviation security perspective:
During the early to mid-1980’s the world was hit with a wave of comparatively small-scale terrorist attacks including aircraft hijackings with a handful of innocent people killed in the process. The end result was that FAA Security was gifted (by Congress) with an increase in tax-payer funds and additional personnel without a corresponding increase in performance – essentially doing the same quality of work but at a greater cost to the tax-payers. Thus, beginning a trend of Congress continually reinforcing this failure-based mentality. The more people that got killed the more money FAA received. I started as a Federal Air Marshal during this time frame.
Perhaps the single most powerful career bureaucrat within the Security Division of FAA during the 1990’s was Lynn Osmus. She was in charge of the Operations Section of FAA Security in the early 90’s and was the number two person in charge of all of Security by the time of the 9/11 attacks. Apparently, the powers that be thought so highly of her career performance that she was promoted to Acting FAA Administrator for a brief time in 2009 – according to Wikipedia. But there was a whole coterie of lap dog managers following in her path.
In the late 1980‘s a group of Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) became concerned enough about the sorry state of aviation security especially in light of the ever-increasing terrorist threat that they sent an anonymous letter to the Inspector General highlighting their allegations. Their concerns were shortly vindicated, however, with the bombing of Pan Am 103 on December 21, 1988; but it took these additional 270 unnecessary deaths to prove the point. The bomb was placed on the plane in Frankfurt, GE (FAA had security oversite responsibilities at foreign locations where US air carriers operated.)
Months before the attack a low-level FAA manager who conducted a routine security inspection at Frankfurt stated in his report that security at that location is held together by the “tenuous threads of luck”. Nine months after the attack I was part of an FAA team that was sent to Frankfurt to sew up the security loopholes that allowed the attacks to occur. That’s nine months, an indication of the priority FAA placed on this tragedy. The end result was that FAA was gifted (by Congress) with another increase in tax-payer funds and additional personnel – without a corresponding increase in performance.
Another pivotal player appeared during this time frame. This was Mary Schiavo, who was Inspector General for the Department of Transportation from 1990-1996 according to Wikipedia. Ms. Schiavo was unique in the annals of government bureaucrats in that she was actually doing the job the tax-payer was paying her to do. She had the nasty habit of continually rattling the cage of the FAA bureaucrats eventually popularizing the term “Tombstone Agency” (meaning they never did anything to improve safety or security until people got killed first).
On May 11, 1996 Value Jet 592 plunged nose first into the Florida Everglades killing 110 people due to a hazardous materials (hazmat) fire that started in the cargo hold. A summation of the crash investigation directly implicated FAA Security for its extremely poor performance of its hazardous materials oversight responsibilities for this airline. Hazmat fell within the responsibilities of the security division. By this time in my career I really began to appreciate the outstanding gift that FAA managers brought to the table – the ability to unashamedly drum-up excuses for virtually anything. More people died and FAA received more money.
A few months later on July 17, 1996 TWA 800 exploded just a few miles off Long Island, New York killing 230 people. The official investigation concluded that their ‘best guess’ of the cause of the explosion was some faulty electrical wiring in the fuel tank which ignited the vapors. By this time I had quit the FAM branch as I recognized it was an ineffectual, disaster prone outfit, which had completely bought into the Tombstone mentality. I transferred to a Team Leader position in the FAA Red Team (terrorist team). In this capacity I came across some very convincing circumstantial evidence indicating that a missile was seen striking the aircraft by multiple witnesses observing the disaster from different geographic areas and reporting similar observations unique to the geographic area in which they were located.
I have to report that I do not know if a missile destroyed the aircraft or not. All I had was very strong circumstantial evidence which supported that likelihood. What I do know, however, is that the government decided long before the evidence was in that a missile did not destroy the aircraft. I submitted my report thru my chain of command and provided copies to my FBI contacts I was working with at the time. I had a very good working relationship with my two FBI contacts until about a month or so after they received my report. Then, no further communication at all. Not even a polite goodbye or good riddance. Before they terminated this contact, they both expressed frustration to me that out of the hundreds of FBI agents assigned the task of investigating the calamity of TWA 800 and the 230 poor souls that perished, that only two FBI agents were assigned the task of investigating the disaster from a possible missile angle. Assignment of the number of agents to a given task in ANY bureaucracy is a direct correlation of the importance that senior management places on that line of work.
Furthermore, I never received ANY feedback from my own organization to this memo I wrote concerning the possible missile. Not even a verbal acknowledgement. This was rather odd, I thought at the time, when the front office would rapidly respond to complaints of not enough toilet paper in the restrooms, but in a situation involving 230 deaths, not a peep. My memo was addressed (thru my chain of command) to the Associate Administrator of FAA for Security who was Cathal Flynn at the time. A retired Navy Admiral. The US Navy I should point out. He was another pivotal manager supporting/leading the Tombstone Agency in the mid-late 1990’s. After he retired from the Navy, Flynn was a key player in SAIC, a major defense contractor. Whatever conspiratorial insight one may have about that I leave to your own conjecture. However, the reporter Jack Cashill (and a lot of other good folks) thinks there is a lot more to the missile angle that the government is hiding. After 9/11 Flynn was a consultant to the Transportation Security Administration, and I’m sure the TSA contracts SAIC were awarded were purely coincidental.
In the mid/late 90’s there was a concerted effort on the part of FAA Security employees to form a union as a balance to the incompetent and vengeful managers we were required to work under. An Administrative Law Judge eventually ruled against us stating that as a national security organization we were not allowed under law to form a union. This was something of a Catch-22 type conundrum. Yes, as a national security apparatus (on paper anyway) we could not legitimately form a union, the problem was that we weren’t functioning as a national security agency should, instead we were just lackeys for the airline industry and lobbyists. So pushing for a union in an effort to form an organization that was specifically prohibited by law from having a union simply didn’t work. The Administrative Law Judge was later promoted to a position within the FAA legal department.
Oh, and let us not forget the really big one, the 9/11 terrorist attacks which directly killed nearly 3,000 innocent people. Starting in the mid-late 1990’s there was a growing concern amongst a group of FAA Security employees of the looming terrorist threat. Attempting to improve the security system through regular bureaucratic channels had long since proved not only to be another pointless exercise but was the kiss of death to one’s career. Merely questioning the prevailing Tombstone Agency method of operations simply wasn’t tolerated.
But there were still those of us who weren’t intimidated. Chief among those is Steve Elson, who was a Red Team Leader in the early 90’s. I replaced him as a Red Team Leader in the late 90’s. The two of us discovered that the problems in aviation security that he documented in the early 90’s were the exact same problems I was documenting in the late 90’s. Absolutely no effort was being made to fix these security loopholes. On top of that we both understood that the terrorist threat was increasing rapidly; based on intelligence that the Tombstone managers completely ignored.
In subsequent meetings we had at the DOT Inspector General’s office, Todd Zinzer, the third highest bureaucrat in the organization, told me, “FAA is so fucked up, I don’t know where to begin”. On another occasion he stated, “Unless you give me a dead body and a smoking gun, there is nothing I can do against the managers in FAA because of the political situation between the FAA and the IG”. This was a direct ding at the former IG Mary Schiavo raising hell with FAA and the new kinder, gentler approach of the IG in its oversite of the FAA failure based bureaucracy. After 9/11 Mr. Zinzer was made acting Inspector General of the DOT, and in 2007 was made THE Inspector General for the Department of Commerce.
Well over a year before the 9/11 attacks I sent a memo through my chain of command to Jane Garvey (the Administrator of FAA) attempting to convince her that there was a “dangerous culture of mismanagement in the Security Division of FAA”, and that the United States faced a potential “tidal wave” of terrorist attacks. Like her immediate subordinate Cathal Flynn, she didn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of the memo much less check into my allegations. About this time I thought that FAA should adopt the Ostrich as its mascot, with the proverbial image of it sticking its head in the sand at the approach of danger. The Democratic Party apparently felt that she did such a bang-up job allowing 9/11 to happen and not holding anyone accountable that she was hired as
a security consultant at the 2004 Democratic Convention. And her career continued to flourish.
I also sent a copy of the memo to Rodney Slater (the Secretary of Transportation). He at least had the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of my letter and copied me on a letter that he sent to Garvey – suggesting that she look into my allegations. But there wasn’t any follow-up and no action was taken. It should be noted that Slater has had a lucrative and impressive career (just based on what you can find on the internet) both before and after his tenure as Secretary, not least of which is being on the board of directors of Delta Airlines.
No discussion of this can of worms would be complete without mentioning Linda Daschle who spent four years as the FAA Deputy Administrator during the Clinton/Gore Administration. She is one of the aviation industries biggest lobbyists. Although she wasn’t Deputy on 9/11; what’s even more significant is that her husband, Senator Tom Daschle, was the major player behind the government’s bailout of the aviation industry after 9/11. In an article titled, I’m Linda, Fly Me by Doug Ireland in the LAWEEKLY 16Jan2003; he states, “….just 11 days after the 911 attacks, her husband rushed through the Democratic Senate, which he controlled, the $15 billion bailout for the airline industry, a notorious tax-payer rip-off”.
In the count-down to 9/11, Steve Elson and I visited the offices of a number of US Congressmen, attempting to alert them to the fact not only of the rising tide of the terrorist threat but that the Tombstone methodology of aviation security wasn’t up to the task of preventing an attack. We spoke face to face with a few no-name congressmen but most of the time we dealt directly with their staffers. With some minor exceptions, we could barely hold their attention.
On March 6, 2000 we had a session with the Chief Legal Counsel for Senator John McCain. She politely listened to our briefing and when we were finished stated, “This is all very interesting but what do you expect us to do about it?” Apparently, I thought at the time, she’s being a bit remise in her duties; as a chief legal counsel she apparently never read Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution. There’s more to being a Congressman than paying lip service to the ignorant public, getting re-elected, and accepting lobbying bribe money. McCain, of course, went on to become a major presidential contender.
We also attempted to brief Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. He was the first Congressmen that wouldn’t have anything to do with us since neither Elson or myself were one of his constituents. But we were later joined by one of his constituents Brian Sullivan, a former FAA Security employee who was doing his own fighting trying to prevent the 9/11 attacks. On May 7, 2001 Sullivan sent a letter to Senator Kerry accurately describing the likely probability of multiple airplane hijackings and crashing the planes into selected targets – among other things. Kerry did the usual Congressional swamp dance which essentially mounted to nothing. Kerry, of course, was a major presidential contender and later served as Secretary of State under the Obama/Biden administration. I always wondered if he only accepted lobbying money just from his constituents.
About two weeks after 9/11 I had two separate meetings on Capitol Hill with my senior congressional staff member contacts from both the House and Senate and from both parties. At the end of these meetings I asked them when they expect to open an investigation into all the failures that contributed to the ease of the terrorists executing their attacks. Both groups said exactly the same thing (like it was rehearsed ahead of time): “Our bosses (meaning the congressmen themselves) will do every thing they can to prevent an investigation into 9/11 as it’s a big can of worms that they don’t won’t to open”. I didn’t realize at the time how big a can it was and how slimy it turned out to be. It was then I decided to file a whistleblower case.
Following all the rules to the letter I filed a formal Whistleblower Disclosure with the United States Office of Special Counsel, which is an independent agency that reports directly to the President. They eventually agreed with the gist of my disclosure stating that FAA executed its civil aviation security mission in a manner that was, “a substantial and specific danger to public safety”. The report was deposited on the desk of the Bush/Cheney Whitehouse where it was immediately dropped into the ‘first’ circular file - never to see the light of day again.
I testified in front of the whitewash of the 9/11 Commission but none of my testimony or our offered documentation is included in their best-selling book. This shouldn’t have been any surprise given that most of the Commission members have some strong connection with the airline industry. In an article by Jaime Holguin of CBS News March 5, 2003 she quotes a former federal prosecutor Terry Brunner, who names commission members and their close association with the airline industry: “Fred Fielding, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines; Slade Gordon represents Delta Airlines; Sen. Max Cleland - $300,000 from the airline industry; Jim Thompson represents American Airlines; Richard BenVinesta represents Boeing and United Airlines; and Rep. Tim Roemer – Boeing and Lockheed Martin.”
In my research for this editorial I couldn’t find any airline association of commission member Jamie Gorelick but when she was Deputy Attorney General (1994-97) for the United States during the Clinton/Gore years she was accused of being instrumental in forming the “wall” between the CIA and the FBI prohibiting them from communicating with each other on such mundane topics as known terrorists running amok within the United States. She’s had a glorious and blessed career since 9/11.
And if you think that the passage of time, retirements, and worms dying off, has ended this phase of nefarious government service – think again. The recent Boeing crashes are a perfect symptom that this disease continues to thrive. The Tombstone torch has been passed to the next generation. But there is more: Instead of doling out appropriate discipline and condemnation, almost all the Tombstone Managers and employees were transferred to the new Transportation Security Administration with promotions. Those who wanted to stay with FAA could do so and finish out their useless careers till retirement. Most of the new employees and managers that TSA hired have absolutely no back-ground in security at all. Together they opened up new frontiers of waste, fraud and abuse that the former FAA managers could only dream about. During the first official week of TSA’s existence they terminated the Red Team which was the only organizational unit in the entire federal government which accurately predicted the 9/11 attacks.
On 9/11, there were approximately 150 FAA Security employees assigned to headquarters in Washington, DC with about another 1,000 scattered around the country. At it’s peak TSA exploded to between 5,000 and 7,000 employees just at its headquarters and unknown thousands more scattered around the country – apparently this number is a big secret, this includes air marshals, special agents, admin staff etc. This doesn’t even include the 50,000 or so screeners. Most of these jobs are bureaucracy maintenance type jobs which wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the existence of the unnecessary bureaucracy in the first place. The tax payer spends nearly a billion dollars a year just on the FAM program, but the entire FAM cadre could be scrapped if they just made double-hulled cockpit doors (both doors can’t be opened at the same time) mandatory on commercial aircraft at a fraction of the cost of just one year’s operating budget of the FAM program. The single hulled doors are just another sloppy fix.
This disease has permeated other aspects of the aviation community, and continues to do so. Mark Estabrook, a retired cargo pilot and whistleblower states: “Apparently, ‘if you see something, say something’ is a shallow DHS marketing tool to lull citizens into an opium-induced coma while they travel,” Captain Estabrook said. “DHS doesn’t really want to irritate the airline lobby if and when they actually do something about security. It’s much easier to get the passengers and crewmembers to believe they’re doing something to keep them safe. Even better, we make the country feel like they are part of the team!”
In reality, Estabrook spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to keep FedEx from firing him on trumped-up accusations. His real mistake was reporting a security issue regarding the company’s publishing of real-time aircraft and package position on the internet. First, they grounded him from flying or jumpseating and then accused him of having experienced a stroke. When they couldn’t get him to admit that, they accused him of being crazy and ordered him to a shrink.
Mark hired an attorney and sued FedEx to keep his job. He fought the case for seven years all the way to the 5th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals (5TH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS CASTRATES "IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING”) where the Court decided in favor of adopting Soviet tactics in lieu of defending employees right “to see something, and say something.” In the end, Estabrook ran out of money and his appeals ended.
It’s a big mistake to equate the lack of a terrorist attack with effective security. There are only two ways to determine if one’s security is effective. The first way is the success or failure of an actual attack and the second is by the assessments of a real Red Team. TSA has proven it would rather not know, preferring instead to rely on the oft tested Tombstone Agency method of operations. In my testimony to the 9/11 Commission I stated that what TSA has should more appropriately be called a “Pink Team” as it is not operating the way a real Red Team should. And what’s worse, is that the single biggest deterrent against aviation related terrorism which doesn’t cost a cent is that flight crews and passengers are more alert to the threat. When one’s life is at stake, political correctness is thrown out the window.
On top of all of this, the Congress still allows government bureaucrats to treat whistleblowers with impunity. As a whistleblower during the Bush/Cheney years, I would describe my government service as a type of purgatory. Under the Obama/Biden years we were banging on the gates of hell itself. Obama/Biden formerly prosecuted more government whistleblowers than every other Presidential Administration combined – in the entire history of the United States.
In this spirit of the Halloween Season, now would be an appropriate time for the American people to conduct an exorcism of career politicians who have long since forgotten to abide by the spirit of our Constitution, of the lobbyist which pull the strings of the politician puppets, and of government bureaucrats who have sold their souls to the devil.
A few years after 9/11 I happened to bump into a senior congressional staffer who looked completely exhausted and burned out. He explained that the real reason Congress doesn’t pass meaningful whistleblower protection legislation for government employees is that they are afraid their own staff members will eventually demand the same type of protections.
Bogdan Dzakovic was born in 1954 in Ohio. As the son of refugee parents from war torn Europe he grew up with the notion that the United States was a guiding beacon of light in a world gone mad, and joined the federal government to enhance that light, and to fight the bad guys. After a brief stint in the military and federal law enforcement, in the late 1980's he started working for the Federal Aviation Administration as an air marshal and later as a Team Leader in the air marshal program. Still later, as a Team Leader in the FAA's Red Team (terrorist team), he was one of the few people in the federal government that identified the threat of terrorism, the vulnerabilities in aviation security and attempted to prevent the 9/11 attacks. Working with others to improve security before the 9/11 attacks, he took their concerns to the highest officials in the bureaucracy, to the Inspector General's office, to the General Accounting Office, and to individual members of Congress. They did nothing but cya. He testified at the 9/11 Commission and maintains that the Commission was a whitewash in certain key areas to keep the government's own bloody hands out of the light of public scrutiny. He wrote the book FORTRESS OF DECEIT to shed some light on what went on behind the scenes in Washington DC before the attacks, as well as the government's nefarious activities after the attacks to ensure they maintained this system of no accountability. Things are worse now than they were in the lead up to 9/11. After a 32 year government career, he discovered that the worst "bad guys" were some of our own senior bureaucrats and national elected officials, where they continue to thrive.