|Photo by Ken Murray 1992|
Whistleblowing Past the Graveyard May Stop Ghosts But Not Government Spooks
Varnadore witnessed the clumsy handling of radioactive materials, the high risk of exposure to hazardous waste, soaring cancer rates among employees, and reckless corner-cutting in safety protocols. His unheeded concerns and Oak Ridge's retaliatory responses to his complaints led him to the media, including a national appearance on "CBS Evening News." In November 1991, he lodged his first of many complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor, petitioning for immunity under federal whistleblower protection statutes. The court initially ruled in Varnadore's favor.
As reported by The New York Times:
[Varnadore's] complaints drew national attention, and he found allies in the federal government.
"I'm going to see that there's a new day here if it's the last thing I do on this job," Steven Blush, an Energy Department official, told CBS News in 1992.
Later that year, the department verified 16 of 26 safety violations identified by Mr. Varnadore, and it ordered Martin Marietta Energy Systems, the contractor the government had employed to run Oak Ridge, to fix all of them.
But the government and Oak Ridge National Labs would not be defeated so easily. They fought back, and Varnadore eventually lost everything.
Then Labor Secretary Robert Reich assembled a panel to review Varnadore's case after the presiding judge requested that he assess damages against Martin Marietta Energy Systems. Instead, Reich dismissed several of Varnadore's claims, citing his failure to follow, to the letter, the bureaucratic processes for filing complaints on time and his inability to prove that Oak Ridge's retaliation was "pervasive" enough to warrant government penalties or intervention. In 1998, a federal appeals court supported Reich and reversed the previous ruling.
The retaliation didn't stop there. Varnadore was hounded for years until the government's efforts culminated in his 2003 arrest for "conspiring to deal guns." Varnadore's wife explained that Charles had merely attempted to sell his gun collection to make ends meet. Again, on a bureaucratic technicality, the government found a way to convict Varnadore. He served 27 months in prison.
"We got Capone on tax evasion. If Charles Varnadore had so much as talked about selling lemonade to his neighbors from a cute little homemade stand, we would've thrown his ass in jail for operating a business without a permit to sell beverages, or for building a temporary structure without a contractor's license," said Herman "Hun" Hunsaker, a senior intelligence officer with the NSA who has been involved in the case since 1993.
When Varnadore's wife was asked about the cause of her husband's death, she replied: "He got tired of fighting."
NSA Tolls the Bell for a Whistleblower
Herman Hunsaker, addressing the press on behalf of the NSA, said that Varnadore's death should serve as a warning to other would-be whistleblowers.
"You can fight us all you want, but we've got the time and resources," Hunsaker observed. "We can wear you down until there's no fight left in you."
Callous as the NSA's sentiments may appear, Hunsaker also noted that several agents lost their lives fighting Varnadore during the long years between his "exposure of dangerous and sensitive secrets to the enemies of America" and his death on March 7.
"There were quite a few senior officers, good men and women, who were well into their 50s when the Varnadore treason first came to light," Hunsaker explained, wiping away a tear. "They didn't make it to see this day, to see the success of their tireless efforts to protect America. We should be mourning these heroes."
By blowing the whistle on Oak Ridge National's corporate practices,Varnadore unwittingly declassified secret intelligence about the U.S. government's nuclear programs to enemy nations around the world, according to Hunsaker.
"When Chuck Varnadore went running to every newspaper and television station in the country, he revealed to our foes the inner workings of our nuclear defense technologies, the scientific processes behind them and a bunch of other stuff," Hunsaker said.
"This wasn't a selfless act of good citizenship. Varnadore was a nuclear technician. He knew that crap was dangerous. Hell, we dropped two of those bombs on some islands full of fishermen in Japan that had diddly to do with World War II. Nothing but ash on a wall after. I think everybody in the world understood from that day forward how deadly atomic power could be. Whistleblowing was just a ruse -- a pathetic excuse -- for Varnadore to squeal to the media, giving away our proprietary information to the commies. And let's say Varnadore was being honest. Even then, ratting out a company to OSHA or Labor or whomever just leads to a lot of expensive red tape. Taxpayers gotta fund the investigation. The company's gotta pay all those fines. That leads to layoffs, unemployment, bankruptcy, recession and eventually outsourcing. You don't want to offshore our nuclear weapons program to a place like China. You don't want China making your a-bombs. Cheap quality. They're still monkeying around with putting a man on the moon."
Hunsaker hopes that Varnadore's death will stifle the efforts of future whistleblowers. Suppressing that threat could dramatically reduce the government's need to spy on its citizens' phone records, emails, drug screening tests, grocery receipts and Pay Per View purchases.
"Once we get this Snowden thing under control, I think America will get the message," Hunsaker added. "I know the press is saying he's got asylum in Russia, but we're holding him in Canada. He so much as farts and it makes its way to our airspace, you're going to see some fireworks."
Canadian officials dispute Hunsaker's claims, saying that NSA officers accidentally arrested Canadian rapper Snow, who looks a bit like Edward Snowden, has a similar name and was popular for a song called "Informer." The musician has since been released.
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