As senior health advisor to the chief medical officer of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Dr. Tom McGinn was one of the nation’s best-placed officials to help devise a robust government response to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
In January 2020, the senior scientist in the Department’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD) began imploring the DHS to aggressively respond to the threat he believed COVID-19 posed to the nation. Infections needed to be tracked, the country’s food-supply secured, law-enforcement agencies required help to protect their personnel and the origins of the virus had to be investigated.
“When you study emerging infectious diseases…the important thing is the earlier you can identify it, the greater the possibility you have to mitigate the impact so death and suffering are minimized,” says 68 year-old McGinn, a North Carolina-native living in Frederick County, Md. “The longer you wait to make a decision the more the disaster can escalate and cascade into…an out of control event.”
Well aware of COVID’s potential to spiral out of control – and spurred by CWMD’s legal obligation to act in times of disaster – McGinn drew up a memo questioning his office’s handling of 30 critical pandemic-related issues. Among his key concerns: How the DHS planned to monitor COVID’s spread, their strategy for developing a robust contract-tracing system and the creation of PPE employee guidelines. (They’re the types of topics addressed in the pair of White House COVID emergency declarations that Pres. Biden just announced will end in May.)
McGinn then delivered the document to CWMD managers and waited for a response. And waited. And waited. What he received instead, said McGinn, were “crickets.”
After months of silence — with scant safety protocols and minimal tracking measures in place — McGinn became so frustrated that he took matters in his own hands. In early April 2020, he submitted a dozen official Request for Information documents demanding accountability for his office’s inaction. “This is a national embarrassment that is being covered up instead of requiring DHS to address it proactively,” he wrote at that time.
Nearly six months later, with no response in sight, he went one step further, submitting a series of DHS Decision Memos — which compel the agency to respond to issues such as those raised by McGinn — in order to force the CWMD to take action. Yet still nothing happened.
“By [that point], CWMD had failed in so many areas,” he told the Post, “that it was painfully apparent that they were not … holding themselves accountable.”
But rather than finally take action against COVID, McGinn alleges that the DHS took action against him. In interviews, McGinn describes how DHS officials conspired to silence his voice and end his career for daring to question why their COVID response was both meager in scope — and, he claims, politically motivated.
A nearly 20-year veteran of the DHS, McGinn describes himself as a patriot, devoted to both the DHS and America’s safety. Despite his decades of loyalty, McGinn claims his decision to confront his superiors resulted in a series of retaliatory measures that have yet to end. Even though he should have been protected under federal “whistleblower” laws, McGinn has spent the last three years in a state of institutional limbo, placed on “leave without pay” status while the DHS allegedly refuses to resolve his case.
“When you put someone on leave without pay for years…you’re putting [them] in a virtual governmental jail…[without] money to support their family,” McGinn said. “You’re not trying to protect the country.”
According to McGinn, in September 2020, weeks after submitting those Decision Memos, the DHS dredged up unproven, half-decade old allegations of harassment and marijuana consumption which they used to revoke his security clearance and remove him from office. McGinn denies the allegations, which he says were never proven.
The DHS “weaponized…. unsubstantiated allegations from 2017” that they had a “duty to resolve” but never did, McGinn said. This type of investigation, he added — rooted in personal, rather than security-related claims — would typically be handled by an employee’s own manager, not escalated directly to a higher office.
“The effort seems to be an amateurish attempt…to drive him to resign,” said former DHS Chief Medical Officer Duane Caneva, a presidential appointee and McGinn’s former direct supervisor in a letter of support for him at the time. “It seems like an example of an impersonal, bureaucratic maneuver devoid of due process.” Caneva repeated these observations in an interview with the Post.
McGinn believes that his case, while personally painful, is indicative of larger systemic failures across the DHS that have left the government unprepared to respond to national crises like COVID-19. And such failures, McGinn concludes, have almost certainly cost lives.
McGinn is a veteran Federal government scientist who helped lead search-and-rescue canine teams at Ground Zero following the September 11th attacks. At that time, he was serving as a deputy commander at the National Disaster Medical System, which coordinates Federal-level disaster responses. At Ground Zero, McGinn says he felt “called” to prevent another disaster like the Twin Tower attacks from ever happening again.
It was a call that McGinn took seriously at DHS, where he helped design bioweapons and pandemic response simulations. “I’m not a water carrier. I’m not a status quo guy. I’m not trying to go along to advance my career,” McGinn said. “I am about doing what the law requires of us.”
McGinn believed he was following the law when in February 2020, he began looking into the origins of COVID-19. What he found was a number of biological indicators suggesting that the pandemic did not emerge from the Huanan Seafood Market in the Chinese city of Wuhan as other leading scientists then claimed — most notably US covid czar, Anthony Fauci.
“When you look at the epidemiology that was being put forth [claiming COVID-19 originated at the market], it was just not possible,” said McGinn. “You’ve got cases not connected to that location, that are prior to that location. It’s not rocket science.”
McGinn’s initial hunches gained traction following calls to a senior scientist at EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), the New York-based NGO that funneled US government funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. That scientist — whom McGinn requested remain anonymous — agreed that the pandemic was unlikely to have started at the market. (The conversation was corroborated by a third party).
Like McGinn, he observed a number of COVID index cases, or initial patients, who lacked a clear connection to the facility. McGinn says he then consulted with Dr. David Franz, the former head of USAMRIID — the U.S. military’s central institution for the study of biological warfare — who, he says, corroborated his doubts about COVID-19’s origins. (Franz did not respond to the Post’s request for comment).
McGinn further questioned the EHA scientist about research into bat-borne coronaviruses being conducted in Wuhan, part of it funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci then led. Animal-borne infections are a specialty for McGinn, who trained as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University, where he focused on infectious disease and reproductive health in animal populations.
This is not the first time McGinn had engaged with EHA; for years his department had partnered with the NGO on infectious disease prevention programs. Typically, his EHA counterparts were “very forthcoming and helpful,” he said. But that changed entirely when he confronted them about the origins of COVID-19. Their responses, he said, suddenly became “vague and evasive.”
This evasiveness led McGinn to conclude that the years-long entanglement between EHA and the Wuhan lab’s bat-borne viruses research demanded an immediate investigation. The lab, McGinn believed, is where the COVID outbreak actually occurred—a belief now shared by many parts of the US Intelligence Community (though denied by EHA officials for years.)
“I took [these concerns] to my intelligence folks [at DHS], asked them to take it to the White House and the intelligence community,” McGinn says. “I got what I considered to be phenomenal pushback. And then I got aggression directed at me.”
At the same time McGinn was raising doubts about the virus’s origin, he said the DHS was failing to implement strategies to combat the pandemic on the ground. “They were virtually paralyzed,” he says, “they were like deer in the headlights.” (The DHS did not respond to the Post’s request for comment).
McGinn personally flagged many of the DHS’s most consequential failings in his multiple memos, including an early airport screening program that required only patients with high temperature to submit to COVID tests. Countless sick passengers who did not exhibit serious symptoms, he said, were simply waved through by DHS staff. There was no data tallied on the numbers of patients tested by the CDC — or how many were actually sick.
McGinn believes that had the program run effectively, the government could have prevented numerous cases of COVID-19 from entering the country at a critical juncture of its spread. Such malfeasance, McGinn continues, is systemic throughout the DHS.
This sentiment is echoed by Sonya LaBosco, a former Supervisory Federal Air Marshal and current Executive Director at the Air Marshal National Council. According to LaBosco, federal air marshals flying in close quarters with scores of potentially infected passengers received no DHS assistance on how to prevent infections during the early days of the pandemic.
“DHS should have not only issued guidance,” LaBosco told the Post, “they should have provided medical liaisons to come into the field with those of us that were deployed out across the United States and worldwide.”
Like McGinn, LaBosco and other Air Marshall representatives wrote repeatedly to CWMD seeking help. And like McGinn, their requests went unanswered. LaBosco believes this lack of oversight contributed to the deaths of Air Marshals such as Kenneth Meisel, who perished from COVID-19 in September 2020.
By this time McGinn had already been sidelined by DHS following his complaints about its sloth-like pandemic response — along with those resurfaced allegations of harassment and instances of drug use. Today, a half-decade after the accusations first materialized, they remain unresolved while McGinn remains on unpaid leave.
“All they had to do for three years was test me [for marijuana],” says McGinn. “Come to my house with law enforcement present and test me.”
In the meantime, DHS’s disaster-response divisions have gone from crisis to crisis. Last year, a House Committee on Homeland Security inquiry into CWMD found that “it has faced significant challenges and persistent problems…that have undermined the office’s ability to successfully fulfill its very vital mission.” What’s more, noted the inquiry, “numerous Governmental and non-Governmental reports indicate that there are significant structural and workforce morale issues within CWMD.” The office has also gone through three Assistant Secretaries in the past four years.
Most crucially, the DHS has never responded to McGinn’s initial pandemic concerns. Nor have they addressed his allegations about possible connections between COVID-19 and EHA, which recently lost part of its US government funding for failure to release data about their bat-borne coronavirus research..
Although DHS ultimately released a comprehensive COVID strategy, McGinn views the agency as unprepared for future outbreaks like COVID-19. Still, he says fixing CWMD is not about assigning blame — but preventing the next viral disaster.
“We need congressional oversight to deal with the gross toxicity within DHS that has been created, sustained and hidden,” says McGinn. “That’s the most important thing—that it gets hidden. It’s the hidden that ultimately destroys our country.”