A California-based commercial pilot says the Transportation Security Administration retaliated against him after he posted videos online showing what he described as shortcomings in airport security.
The series of videos showed scenes from inside the San Francisco International Airport and were narrated by the pilot, who pointed out the contrast between the passengers who were heavily scrutinized, while a single door separated employees who worked on the airfield from the airport.
"I was trying to bring up the obvious, ludicrous TSA-type of security," the pilot said, referring to the cell phone videos he posted, and later removed, from the popular video-sharing website YouTube.
The pilot requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
He said he didn't think much about posting his videos online in late November, but that within a matter of days, his chief pilot called him to ask him to remove the videos because they were "stirring a commotion."
A few days after that, the pilot was informed by the TSA that he was being suspended from a program in which he participated, the Federal Flight Deck Officer program
. As an officer in the program, he was deputized by TSA to carry a handgun in the cockpit.
"Basically, an air marshal in the sky," the pilot said of the volunteer program. After his suspension, four air marshals and two local deputies showed up at his home near Sacramento, California, to personally confiscate his weapon.
The only answer he could get from the TSA as to why he was suspended from the program was that he may have violated a regulation, he said.
The TSA said that it holds those serving as federal flight deck officers to "the highest ethical standards," and said it took action because the pilot was in the program.
"FFDOs must be able to maintain sensitive security information as a condition of the FFDO program," TSA spokeswoman Sarah Horowitz said. "As the issuing authority of credentials and firearms, TSA reviews each possible violation of those standards and acts accordingly up to and including removing an individual from the assigned role."
Horowitz also defended security measures at the San Francisco airport, saying that there are "measures in place that are both seen and unseen."
In the aftermath of the incident, the pilot said he resigned from the program.
In the age of WikiLeaks, where divulging sensitive information can be so controversial, why did this pilot decide to share his videos so publicly?
"I didn't think anything would come of it," said the 50-year-old pilot, a veteran who was a maintenance test pilot.
"This is really about getting the message out and demanding intelligent security," Don Werno, the pilot's attorney, said. "No state secrets are being shown here. What's being shown here is a lack of security."
Beyond the TSA action, the pilot's airline had not taken any action against him, and he counts on the support of his union.
However, when the sheriff's deputies showed up at his house with the air marshals, they also took his California concealed weapons permit
. The pilot said this permit was unrelated to his work for the TSA.