- By Milt x_Zall
- Feb 03, 2002
Sept. 11 was a terrible day for America and also, unfortunately, for
a fed named James Hopkins, who temporarily lost his job after alerting officials
to a possible link between an alleged hijacker and an individual who had
received training at the FAA Academy.
Hopkins began working for the Federal Aviation Administration in May
2001 as an international aviation operations specialist. He previously served
as a Navy intelligence officer for 20 years.
According to the Office of Special Council's petition, two days after
the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania,
Hopkins read reports that at least one hijacker on each of the planes had
received flight training in the United States. An article identified two
individuals who were linked to passenger manifests of the hijacked planes
Mohamed Atta and Adnan Bukhari.
Hopkins searched FAA's International Training Program database, which
contains the names of people accepted for training at the FAA Academy's
Oklahoma City location. A match appeared for the name Bukhari, indicating
that an individual with that surname from Saudi Arabia was trained at the
FAA Academy in 1991 and 1998.
Hopkins eventually took the information to FAA security against the
wishes of his supervisor, who said it was not Hopkins' responsibility to
investigate the case. Once there, Hopkins was met by his third-level supervisor,
who told Hopkins to return to his office and that they would discuss the
About 30 minutes later, Hopkins' first-level supervisor placed him on
administrative leave and sent him home. Soon, Hopkins and a co-worker called
the FBI, which followed up with Hopkins that same day. Ultimately, the FBI
cleared the suspect, although at the time Hopkins made his disclosures,
the FBI had been questioning the suspect in connection with the attacks.
Eight days after Hopkins made his disclosure to FAA officials, his employment
was terminated during his probationary period. According to court documents,
Hopkins was dismissed because of his failure to maintain a "calm and professional
approach in the completion of duties, as well as evidence of sound judgment."
Hopkins filed a complaint with OSC shortly after he was fired. After a preliminary
investigation, OSC determined that the decision to fire Hopkins was based
on protected whistle-blowing.
When the FAA rejected OSC's request to voluntarily reinstate Hopkins,
OSC filed a formal petition for a stay with the Merit Systems Protection
Board on Oct. 15. Within an hour of OSC's filing, the FAA rescinded Hopkins'
dismissal and placed him on paid "administrative leave status until further
notice." MSPB Chairwoman Beth Slavet granted OSC's request for a stay. She
found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the FAA terminated
Hopkins during his probationary period because he made protected disclosures.
Last we heard, Hopkins was back at his job.
Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus
column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at [email protected].