Everyone who flies has been through it. The long lines. Emptying pockets. Removing your belt and/or jewelry. Taking laptops and electronics out of your suitcases or bags. Having your bag randomly searched or, worse, being subjected to a “random” body patdown. If you’re at a large airport, maybe you’ll get lucky and a bomb-sniffing dog will be there to make the line go twice as fast and save everyone from having to step on everyone else’s foot fungus - but if not, foot fungus it is. And heaven help you if you wore white socks or, God forbid, no socks at all.
Everything that involves going into an airport has been carefully, meticulously planned, from the aforementioned shoe checks to how much shampoo can be carried in a bottle. Passengers are subjected to a full body scan and, should something amiss show up, are patted down to determine whether it’s an odd clothing fold or something more sinister. Sure, stuff still sneaks through, but it’s not for lack of trying. And one thing is absolutely certain, if you don’t go through the rigamarole, you aren’t getting in, period.
Unless, of course, you’re an airport vendor or employee, or a tray of “specially blessed” food.
A Fox News report on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” earlier this month revealed a crazy TSA airport security loophole that you could drive a mack truck through, literally. That’s right, vendor trucks currently drive through U.S. airport gates unchecked or only partially checked by the agency that bends over backwards to make sure YOU don’t bring more than 3.4 ounces of shampoo on the plane.
The report by Fox News correspondent Hillary Vaughn featured former federal air marshal and whistleblower Robert MacLean, who said he was blocked from doing random “open and look” checks because the airline food inside trucks were “specially blessed.” That’s because the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) police and TSA at Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport apparently gives out “special exemptions” to food trucks “serving planes headed to the Middle East.” When MacLean tried to look into a catering truck’s cargo bay, an MWAA police officer told him the “specially blessed airline meals have already been searched by an off site private security company.”
Not the TSA, but a “private security company.” Let that sink in.
During this surprise multi-agency law enforcement event called “Operation Guardian”, MacLean says he was on a TSA Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) team that receives $49.8 million annually. VIPR was established after the Madrid, Spain 2004 train terrorist bombings.
Further, MacLean was told by Regional Supervisory Air Marshal in Charge Clyde Porter that “the reason why we don’t break these seals [on the meals] and do open and look checks is because the public has religious rights under the First Amendment.”
“In MacLean’s disclosure,” Vaughn said on air, “the former air marshal testified that he was told by TSA leadership to stand down, follow the local airport police authority, and to not open or look in the cargo hold of the food truck.”
While the TSA said in a statement to Fox News that the “catering carts and trucks are inspected to ensure that security threats are not contained within,” then “sealed for an additional security layer” under the agency’s “rigorous inspection and testing program,” the definition of “are inspected” apparently means ‘inspection’ by private security companies hired by foreign airlines which are only technically required to check half the items, but not everything.
“It’s security theater,” MacLean said. “We are spending all this manpower and hours patting down children and elderly veterans in wheelchairs but the airport workers who could be motivated by greed can smuggle whatever it needs past security.”
It’s an easily exploitable loophole that any would-be terrorist would undoubtedly welcome.
Internal TSA documents obtained by Fox News revealed that 150 out of 212 catering facilities failed TSA audits because employees didn’t follow security protocol. Further, Fox News wasn’t aware of any catering facilities that search employees themselves or their property before entering the facility.
“And once it arrives at the airport,” Vaughn said, “the TSA doesn’t double check, even though their truckload of food will soon be airborne.”
While the matter is thankfully being investigated by multiple agencies, including the Senate Homeland Security Committee and the TSA itself, the Fox News report did immediately lead to the issuance of an internal TSA memo attempting to address the situation by recommending that TSA employees, not just airline workers and contractors, be included in searches.
Meanwhile, the road for MacLean himself hasn’t been easy. Since leaving the agency in March, the TSA has attempted to discredit him, he explained to me. Ten days after he emailed an inquiry about the religious exemption, TSA locked him out of his office and ordered him to seek and pay for a private psychiatric examination, which he passed. After failing to have him mentally committed, a TSA manager accused him of being an unaccountable “white male.” Finally, TSA fired him for “misogyny” after he posted two media articles about a once-fired TSA employee exchanging sexual affairs with a manager who fired MacLean the first time. She would keep her job and later become a federal air marshal training instructor in MacLean’s Washington, DC field office.
TSA waited to fire MacLean after U.S. senators were blocking President Trump’s U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) nominees for over a year. Twenty days after the MSPB became powerless to save whistleblowers, and after deliberating for 10 months, Clyde Porter fired MacLean, he said, mitigating none of the 12 accusations against MacLean.
Describing his experience, MacLean said: “There is no accountability of managerial misconduct. When they’re caught red-handed wasting taxpayer dollars or endangering passengers, they’re simply reassigned or rewarded and the whistleblowers are given cash settlements to early retire and forever leave TSA. TSA won’t fire bad bosses because it's too afraid of them exposing even more high-level wrongdoing during litigation.”