MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - A senior manager for TSA at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport who has become a whistleblower is speaking out for the first time about retaliation within the agency.
Drew Rhoades is one of four Assistant Federal Security Director’s at MSP. Rhoades is in charge of mission support and logistics.
"Never in my 30 plus years in Government, ever, have I talked to the media about issues or problems,” Rhoades said. “I feel, candidly, that there are only a few times when the TSA takes action, one of them is when it gets media attention."
A former Army ranger, he joined TSA in Minnesota shortly after 9-11, and got top evaluations, until a year ago.
Rhoades said he started to get frustrated when he noticed several security issues, like orange tags that were no longer placed on checked bags that had already been screened, and how ammunition was handled at the checkpoints. He also suspected supervisors were shaving minutes off wait times at passenger checkpoints.
Around the same time, the Fox 9 Investigators began reporting on a series of security breaches.
Rhoades: "There were these embarrassing stories about the TSA. My supervisor said, 'I want to know who the leak is. Is it you, he said at one meeting."
Reporter: They thought you were my leak for those stories?'
Rhoades "That is correct."
Reporter: "And just to set the record straight, we had never talked, or met each other when I did those stories?'
Rhoades: "That is correct."
Rhodes' boss is Federal Security Director Cliff Van Leuven.
Ven Leuven ordered Rhoades transferred from Minnesota, to Tampa, Florida. But for Rhoades, who had recently divorced, the warmer locale came at price.
Rhoades: "If I left the state of Minnesota, I would've lost custody of my children."
Reporter: "So they knew they had you, that moving was a deal killer?"
Reporter: "And you think around the country directed reassignments are used to punish people in TSA?"
Rhoades: "No doubt. It's happened in many cities."
In a letter obtained by FOX 9, Van Leuven writes that Rhoades has, loyalties to prior leadership… and a transfer… would sever past loyalties."
That was a thinly veiled reference to a previous boss, Ken Kasprisin.
"They thought Drew was proving me information and I was providing it to you. And both of those were false," said Kasprisin.
He called TSA brass in Washington, and told them they were likely violating the federal whistleblower act. They rescinded the transfer.
"Drew spoke up to them on numerous occasions that what they wanted to do was one: illegal and two: against policy. They didn't want to hear it and worked around him, said Kasprisin.
In a statement to the FOX 9 Investigators, TSA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. said:
"In February 2015, Andrew Rhoades sought reconsideration of a TSA-directed reassignment to Florida. After assessing his complaint, TSA cancelled his directed reassignment. The Office of Special Counsel continues to investigate his situation.”
OTHER TSA WHISTLEBLOWERS FROM MSP
Becky Roering is another senior manager from MSP who took her complaints to Congress. She warned higher ups about gaps in criminal background checks for passengers getting pre-check, and for airport workers. Three of whom were recruited to fight for terror groups overseas, two becoming suicide bombers.
"TSA is handing out pre-check like Halloween candy," the TSA Asst. Federal Security Director told Congress.
She was suspended, twice, but each of the suspensions on hold pending an investigation.
"Culture exists at TSA is one of fear and distrust, " she said.
Another TSA whistleblower, a blue shirt, reported that Sara Jane Olson got through TSA pre-check, even though she's a convicted terrorist.
And there's Marcene Grabenbauer, Van Leuven's former executive assistant, who pointed out security and policy violations to her boss.
"As Cliff got more comfortable he wanted to push out the old," said Grabenbauer in phone interview to the Fox 9 Investigators.
Van Leuven tried to fire her, but it was rescinded, she has since resigned.
"I was always going to have a target on my back, walking around on egg shells, what will the drum up next to get rid of me," Grabenbauer said.
SO WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE TSA IN THE TWIN CITIES?
"Really bad practices of cover-ups and glossing over problems," Rhoades said. "And we don't address people who continue to retaliated against others."
"It's systemic of a toxic culture from top to bottom," Kasprisin said.
Kasprisin who went on to serve as interim director of TSA nationally, describes a culture war within his old agency. It’s between those who joined TSA in the aftermath of 9-11, those from the military, law enforcement, and the FAA.
And there's the new guard, senior managers who come from the airline industry, like Van Leuven, who was in charge of customer service for Frontier and Northwest. They are more obsessed with wait times at check points than security.
"There are individuals who have gotten in, it's job security," said Kasprisin.
"The airlines exhibit tremendous amount of pressure and influence over TSA so when we have 30, 40, 50, 60 wait time, they lobby and contact us at TSA headquarters or they contact the Federal Security Heads at those airports and they don't want that scrutiny," Rhoades said.
As for TSA top man at MSP, Van Leuven declined to talk to the Fox 9 Investigators about the whistleblowers, but he talked to just about everyone else last week about the new North End Checkpoint, which TSA hopes will shave a few minutes off of wait times. That new checkpoint was subject to major lines this week because management did not allocate overtime to staff the new checkpoint.
Reporter: 'If management is so afraid of retaliation they won't blow the whistle if they see something wrong with security?"
Rhoades: "I agree, unfortunately that puts the public at risk."
Reporter: 'It puts people at enormous risk if you have managers of TSA who are afraid to speak up?"
Rhoades: "I would agree with you, unfortunately."
Rhoades has essentially doubled down on his criticism of TSA leadership. He recently filled another whistleblower complaint that top TSA managers making more than $162,000 who got automatic bonuses. That includes an assistant administrator in charge of security, Kelly Hoggan, who got $70,000 in bonuses over three years. Even though according to a leaked Homeland Security report, undercover tests found weapons and fake explosive getting past security 95% of the time in 70 covert tests.
"It wasn't tied to a performance rating, wasn't tied to any objective basis, if you have a high salary you continue to get performance bonuses," Rhoades recalled.
According to TSA, a report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General concerning compensation to certain TSA executives in 2013 and 2014, found “no violations of law or policy in those payments.”
In a statement, TSA said:
“Since his confirmation, Administrator Peter Neffenger has sought to enhance respect, selflessness, collaboration, and accountability in all activities, across the agency, from executive decision-making to core security functions. TSA will not tolerate illegal, unethical or immoral conduct. When such conduct is alleged, it is investigated thoroughly, and when appropriate, by an outside authority. When an investigation finds that misconduct has occurred, TSA takes the appropriate action. This is the case regardless of seniority or position.”
TSA has reportedly changed its bonus policy, limiting performance bonuses to $10,000 annually.