Supreme Court to hear ex-air marshal’s whistle-blower case

Air marshal ruling
Robert MacLean, a federal air marshal who is contesting his firing for disclosing sensitive security information to the news media, stands beneath a jetliner taking off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County.
(Christina House / For The Times)

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear the whistle-blower case of a former federal air marshal who was fired in 2006 for revealing what he thought were crucial security lapses, including government plans to remove undercover officers from airline flights.

The nation’s highest court agreed to consider the matter at the request of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which terminated Robert MacLean of south Orange County on the grounds that his disclosures to the news media threatened national security.

Government attorneys are challenging a decision issued in May 2013 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. The court ruled that MacLean’s actions were covered under the Whistleblower Protection Act and ordered new hearings to reconsider his firing.

The 1989 law prohibits retaliation against federal workers for disclosing information that exposes mismanagement, abuses of power, the waste of government money and serious threats to public health and safety.


Government attorneys have argued that MacLean, who was once stationed at Los Angeles International Airport and is now a solar power consultant, violated agency rules that bar the release of “security sensitive information,” a nonclassified designation.

MacLean has contended that the plan to remove air marshals from long-distance flights was not marked “security sensitive” when it was conveyed to personnel via unencrypted text messages. He also asserts that the government applied the designation to his disclosures months after his firing.













The stories shaping California

Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.