CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - Three former federal air marshals say they were told by a supervisor to target "the black people" when they worked in Orlando because "they're the ones who have warrants."
"He told us stop and talk to the black people because they're the ones who have warrants," said former air marshal turned whistleblower, Steve Theodoropoulos. "But he didn't use the 'black people' he used the n-word."
The disturbing directive allegedly took place at the Orlando International Airport between 2005 and 2010.
"We were taken by that," said Theodoropoulos. "In this day and time what...supervisor would indicate that? But that's what they wanted to do. It was number driven. You're stopping and talking to people based upon color that because they're black they possibly have more warrants than other types of people. And that's what we were told."
Former air marshal Henry Preston says he also heard the order, which he says came from a federal employee who, at the time, ran the TSA's behavior detection program at the Orlando airport.
"You both heard him use the n-word?," asked FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant.
"Yes," said Theodoropoulos.
"Yes," said Preston.
Preston said he was also told to "go after the blacks."
"Although they used the n-word," he said. "'They're the ones that have the most warrants.'"
Ed Cunningham, an Army veteran, who worked as an air marshal in Orlando for more than a decade and is now retired, says he also heard the racist order given "several" times.
"That's true," said Cunningham. "I also heard this individual say this on several occasions."
Asked how the order was worded, Cunningham said he was told, "'If you can't find any of the [behavior] indicators of individuals where we could legitimize our numbers here, just look for the n-----s. They're the ones who always has the extra warrants on them. You could always find somebody.'"
"For a federal employee to do that," he added, "it's not acceptable."
All three air marshals say they ignored the orders but believe others did not.
Theodoropoulos says he verbally reported the incident to the TSA, which runs the Federal Air Marshal Service, and the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General.
He says his complaints went nowhere.
"We reported it through the normal chain of command, said Theodoropoulos. "We reported to Department of Homeland Security Inspector [General] when they came down. Nothing happened. In fact, the man was later promoted."
Officials with the Inspector General's office say they are not allowed to discuss specific complaints or allegations. The TSA says the accused supervisor was promoted to Transportation Security Manager and now works at the Orlando-Sanford International Airport in Sanford, Fla., near Orlando.
"If that's the way to get promoted I don't want to get promoted," said Cunningham.
The TSA says it has no record of a complaint and says the accused individual was not in a position of authority over the air marshals. FOX 46 reached out several times to this accused federal employee but he did not want to comment.
"TSA does not comment on ongoing investigations or specific personnel actions," said TSA spokesman Thomas Kelly. "TSA takes all allegations of misconduct serious and requires employees to report any violation of policy."
Sources say this supervisor, who FOX 46 is not naming, is under investigation for harassment in an unrelated case.
The TSA insists passengers are not tracked based on race or religion.
These three former air marshals say they want to testify in front of Congress about their experience, as lawmakers continue to probe the ongoing surveillance methods.
Current and former air marshals say innocent Americans, not suspected of a crime or on any watch list, have been secretly surveilled for more than a decade based on an internal checklist of every day behaviors.
"They wanted to generate reports. They wanted to generate stats," said Preston. "They were looking for numbers so Congress would give them more money. That's the bottom line. This had nothing to do with catching a terrorist at all. Zero."
No terrorist has been arrested based on the behavior indicators, Theodoropoulos said.
The TSA says this employee is not under investigation and a new formal complaint would need to be made in order to investigate these allegations. All three air marshals say they will do that.
"Why are we wasting resources when legitimate terrorists are out there?," asked Theodoropoulos.
At least four members of Congress have now asked the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General to investigate these allegations.