Obstructing investigations of such crimes and covering up for their co-workers are some of the things that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Los Alamos National Laboratory have in common. A new Justice Department (DOJ) Inspector General Report has uncovered a shocking pattern of misconduct on the part of senior FBI managers over the last decade. Meanwhile, a scandal involving the loss or theft of nearly $3 million of government property at Los Alamos National Laboratory continues to unfold amidst charges of cover-ups by higher lab managers.
The DOJ inspectors sought to determine whether the FBI’s system of discipline was more forgiving of senior managers than lower-ranking employees. The inspectors concluded there is not “sufficient evidence” to demonstrate preferential treatment for senior managers, but that the “perception” of unfairness is “strong, and not unreasonable.” Even a cursory glance at the report shows why. It documents a persistent pattern of misconduct that has included lying under oath and making false statements to investigators. In one case, senior managers falsified travel vouchers in order to bill taxpayers for personal travel to a retirement dinner. By way of justification, many cited meetings that did not occur, in some cases with employees either on leave or out of the country, or participation at a conference that few actually attended.
The report also describes the internal government cover-up of FBI mistakes during the 1992 Ruby Ridge incident. The bureau tried to shield Headquarters officials Larry Potts and Danny Coulson from criticism for their role in formulating the “rules of engagement” that led to the killing of Randy Weaver’s wife. Internal FBI and DOJ investigations went on for nearly nine years in a process the report says was “shrouded in secrecy.” One senior agent was eventually sentenced to 18 months in prison for obstruction of justice. (Similar allegations have been made against the bureau for its conduct of the Oklahoma City bombing investigation, but there has been no action to date.) An FBI inspector was found to have “edited” other agents’ FD-302s to remove “language harmful to the FBI” while other inspectors neglected to interview key eyewitnesses.
In both instances, the misconduct occurred in an attempt to protect senior managers and higher-ups from disciplinary action that could prove harmful to their careers. In many cases, senior officials facing investigations were permitted to retire with their reputations, and their pensions, intact. Other senior managers under suspicion were promoted or received substantial bonuses while the investigations were ongoing. Inspectors conducting the inquiries also benefited from promotions or bonuses, in some cases authorized by the same officials they were investigating.
Meanwhile, new details have emerged in the Los Alamos National Laboratory scandal. Through the Project on Government Oversight, AIM has obtained internal lab reports that show more than $2.7 million of computers, video cameras, cell phones, lasers, oscilloscopes, and machine tools among government property missing or stolen at the scandal-plagued New Mexico lab. The FBI has opened a full-field investigation of two lab employees alleged to have made “unallowable purchases” totaling more than $50,000, and a team of Energy Department investigators has arrived in Los Alamos. The internal memos were prepared in early 2002 and include an itemized listing of property missing or stolen from 1999 to 2001. The memos cite growing concerns about the theft of lab property and the harm done to lab operations as a result. A lab security officer complained that thefts of items over $5,000 aren’t even reported. In other cases, items initially reported as lost were later determined to be stolen. Echoing earlier whistleblower allegations of a cover-up, as recently reported by AIM, the memos allege that a “professional inquiry” into the thefts is never conducted nor are reports to local police or the FBI adequate to initiate an outside investigation. Publicly, a Los Alamos spokesman claimed that only $100,000 of equipment was missing in 2001, but an April 2002 memo written by the lab’s Chief Financial Officer reports property valued at more than ten times as much, nearly $1.3 million, was actually missing in 2001.
Another common denominator between the Bureau and Los Alamos is the utter lack of accountability. Few of the bureau officials mentioned in the Justice report suffered any consequences for their misdeeds. Few Energy Department employees believe anything will come of the new scandal at the Los Alamos lab. Both FBI and Energy Department managers reserve their wrath for whistleblowers and internal critics.