July 15th, 2008
06:33 PM ET

The TSA and me – Keeping us all honest

TSA questions a former air marshal about e-mail on talking to CNN. Here's a preview
TSA questions a former air marshal about e-mail on talking to CNN. Here's a preview

Program Note: Federal officers charged with keeping terrorists off planes are now searching their own ranks for staff who told CNN that few flights were protected by air marshals. Watch Drew Griffin's report tonight on AC360° 10p ET.

Drew Griffin
Special Investigations Unit

Here’s a little behind the scenes truth telling most reporters, well a lot of reporters won’t admit: we all fear being wrong. The day after we reported the lack of federal air marshals on domestic flights was one of those days I felt that fear. The Transportation Safety Administration publicly came after our reporting. The agency set up a blog on its website, challenging our numbers, calling the report itself false, eventually even going to congress and testifying that CNN got it wrong.

Even though our report was heavily vetted by CNN, and obviously, we knew we had it right….that darn morning-after fear set in. So I immediately began working my contacts. I re-checked my notes, my facts, interview logs and by mid-morning I was again breathing a sigh of relief. According to sources high and low, in government, in cockpits and sitting with some of you in the commercial sections of aircrafts, our reporting was spot-on.

The added confirmation came last month when former federal air marshal and Iraq war vet Jeff Denning called to tell me the TSA sent out its investigators to try and find out our “source”. What the TSA initially called “a myth” is now apparently being investigated as a potential leak of classified security information. I guess the fear at TSA is CNN actually got it right.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Keeping Them Honest • T1 • TV
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Amos

    What's that site where I can check to see if I'm on that watch list?

    July 16, 2008 at 4:11 am |
  2. Bob

    On a recent return from overseas, my luggage was in TSA's hands while a transfer was effected. When I unpacked, my Cialis - a sex enhancing drug - was absent several pills. The TSA should pay its agents enough to get their own pills without taking prescription drugs from airline passengers.

    When I complained to the Homeland Security Department's Inspector General, he personally referred my complaint to the TSA's Bureau of Inquiries - which never, ever replies to any citizens' complaints.

    I've since checked with friends and discovered I'm not the only one missing valuable property after it leaves their hands and becomes the responsibility of the TSA. Since no agents are ever accountable, inspections are an invitation to thievery.

    The TSA is a work program only Bush could love, a complete waste of time, money, and human resources. Better we should reinstate Roosevelt's WPA, which created good roads, dams, public buildings, and a nicer America - not this sad excuse for employing the unemployed on the basis of fear.

    July 16, 2008 at 2:49 am |
  3. Jackie in La Habra, Ca

    Don't back down....They might be bluffing.

    July 16, 2008 at 1:56 am |
  4. Jeff Heatherington

    This is worth pursuing further. The TSA is supposed to make us safe in the air, not act like the Gestapo. The fact that the reporter is now harassed every time he flies is truly scary.

    July 16, 2008 at 12:08 am |
  5. Mark in Nashville

    Is there a link to see if one is on the no fly list?

    July 16, 2008 at 12:06 am |
  6. AK

    Mr. Drew Griffin great report. I have been on Terror Watch List for a long time. I have been a part of CNN report about laptop searches and have been fighting to remove myself from the Watch List for long time. I have been harassed, humiliated, intimated by US Customs and TSA many times. I believe in U.S Constitutions and Bill of Rights and I hope all of the concerned American citizen from different ethnic background, religions, etc can come together to voice their concerns about this flawed system. I am all for going after the bad guys but not for constant harassments and racially profiling of the innocent.


    July 16, 2008 at 12:03 am |
  7. Debra in Cape Coral, FL

    Drew - Very scary report. I'm in the middle of an Office of Civil Rights/ Department of Justice complaint concerning racial profiling of biracial (i.e., not easily racially identifiable) people at Fort Myers, FL airport - my husband and I have a problem almost every time we fly and I have at least six other people who have the same problem. Can't find out how to contact you . . . might be another interesting part to this whole mess. Have also noticed increased scrutiny since I started to complain.

    July 16, 2008 at 12:02 am |
  8. Robert E. Adams

    Are you people so naive you can’t figure out why we don’t want the world to know that we only put agents on 99% of our flights. And you can’t figure out why the government would want to know who is telling the story. What planet & what century are you from? You probably don’t know why we didn’t want bin laden to know we were tracking his cell phone since one of you American journalists broke this story. You people need to go to “loyalty to America” school. Just because someone is telling a story doesn’t mean you have to broadcast it to the whole world. You must be the same group of journalists who can’t understand when you inspire terrorists to fight another day, you kill more US Soldiers. Wake up & smell the real truth about what you people are doing to this country in the name of making “George Bush” look bad. Your’re giving this country to the terrorists on a silver platter.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:56 pm |
  9. EmmaOhio

    Drew Griffin, great job. Drew, with 60% of our govt agencies now run by CEO's and corporate contractors your information, esp. the negative info, has probably been spread all over the world. Contractors are not held to the same standards as public employees.
    Thank God for the whistleblower. That is the way govt is suppose to work for the public good. The FBI used to contract with ChoicePoint in order to make an end run around the constitution. Choicepoint would give the FBI info they were not supposed to be getting on citizens. Now the CIA is run in part by corporate contractors including the presidents daily security briefing. We have two govts, a corporate run market based govt & a small ineffective constitutional republic,, and the media doesn't think this is news? When media talks about govt screwing up I want to know if it was a public employee or contractor.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:51 pm |
  10. James in Lisbon, IA

    I was just wondering when we started calling our political enemies communists again.

    July 15, 2008 at 10:54 pm |
  11. Tom

    So, what you are saying is that if you make facts up from information provided by third party sources that it becomes more official than Congressional testimony?

    "Even though our report was heavily vetted by CNN" And how would CNN know how many air marshals there are?

    "So I immediately began working my contacts." Do you mean your cadere of 'former FAMs' who have not been on the job in years and have been trying to 'get even' ever since they left?

    "According to sources high and low, in government, in cockpits and sitting with some of you in the commercial sections of aircrafts, our reporting was spot-on." So they told you what you wanted to hear. Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't the story follow the facts... Not make up facts to fit your story like you did?

    July 15, 2008 at 9:50 pm |
  12. EJ (USA)

    So are Tom & Alphonso lawyers for the TSA?

    July 15, 2008 at 9:37 pm |
  13. Genevieve M, TX

    "The agency set up a blog on its website, challenging our numbers, calling the report itself false, eventually even going to congress and testifying that CNN got it wrong."

    Drew, this ^^ is what I call a "cheap shot". Since you all reported the facts and not lies, there is nothing to worry about.

    July 15, 2008 at 9:23 pm |
  14. Tom

    I agree, this is "totally sickening." I bet that if Drew tried telling the criminals where the police would be he would have been arrested for inteference with a law enforcement officer by now. It is sad that CNN would "waste their hard earned money to spark this bogus “investigation”, when it turned out that they were lying all along." You are right "They all should be fired (CEO’s and anyone in management) that knew about this."

    July 15, 2008 at 9:10 pm |
  15. Susan


    The United States was way behind Europe ( and elsewhere ) when it
    came to airline, airport and passenger security systems. It is worth a little inconvenience for security, however I do feel bad for all your troubles.

    At least FISA works. An inquiry ( e-mail ) to TSA in reference to the federal air marshal program would set off some alarms if I understand how FISA works. It would be wishful thinking to say that the FDA worked that well.

    You do good work and I appreciate your high standards of reporting.

    Get some good books if you are going to be waiting around a lot of airports.

    Cheers !!!


    July 15, 2008 at 8:58 pm |
  16. Jim-

    Considering Our Government as a whole is not doing the job we PAY them for i'm not suprised, We have been invaded by 12,000,000 people here ILLEGALLY that No one does anything about, We have a Housing Forclosure Crisis that Should NOT have happened in the first place. I personally do not fly . Truth has nothing to fear, nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of & nothing to remember Every body is passing the buck & givng excuses that hold as much water as a fish net in Death Valley on a 130 degree day.

    July 15, 2008 at 8:52 pm |
  17. Alphonso from Washington D.C

    This is totally sickening. I bet that they are spending or have spent tax payers’ hard earned money (TSA) to spark this bogus "investigation", when it turned out that they were lying all along. They all should be fired (CEO's and anyone in management) that knew about this.

    July 15, 2008 at 8:45 pm |
  18. Annie Kate


    Your report was great and I never doubted your veracity. Its worrisome that TSA has identified this as a "national security leak" as they hunt for your source – to me it sounds like they just want to hurt the whistleblower for letting you know that TSA wasn't doing its job like it was suppose to.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 15, 2008 at 8:34 pm |
  19. Tom

    If you want honesty then let’s be honest... Yes Denning forwarded an e-mail and he sent it to me, a real Air Marshal. TSA did not waste their time hacking into anyone's e-mail, I gave it to them. I was personally insulted and professionally disgusted that someone would go out of their way to recruit FAMs to go on television and tell the bad guys that it was safe to attack because air marshals only protect "1%" of flights. Why don't you just paint a target on my back instead... Or on your families who are flying this summer?

    July 15, 2008 at 8:30 pm |
  20. Minou, New York City

    Hi Drew,
    that was a great report, I remember it clearly!
    But I'm confused about one thing: do you mean that the TSA doesn't even know exactly how many air marshalls are on flights? I mean, they're going all the way to congress to testify, so they must have some kind of black on white proof that CNN's numbers were wrong, no? I'm confused. How (un)organized is this agency? They either know exactly that you and your sources were right, or they don't know what's going on in their own town!

    July 15, 2008 at 8:28 pm |
  21. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    I'm sickened by constantly finding out yet another govt group or commission is corrupt, inefficient or both. Jesse Ventura is right when he said our Govt is a bunch of liars. Then........when they are "found out" they get mad and have it Under Investigation. Why don't you investigate yourselves TSA.............

    July 15, 2008 at 8:11 pm |
  22. Cheryl

    Great reporting Drew! If this doesn't get nominated for next year's emmy, something is wrong. We actually had an air marshall on a flight last week. There was something wrong w/someone's ticket and carry on. They went through everyone's carry on at the gate before we were allowed to board the plane. Seeing as the flight was out of Orlando, there sure were alot of mouse ears floating around!

    July 15, 2008 at 7:55 pm |