WASHINGTON - February 13 - An air-monitoring technician who revealed serious operational failures and other problems at the Bluegrass Army Depot may lose his clearance to work near chemical weapons, according to a memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The action for “Permanent Disqualification” of Donald Van Winkle cites unspecified “signs of behavior of a disgruntled employee and … lack of a positive attitude.”
In recent months, Van Winkle has notified authorities that monitoring devices to detect leaks of deadly VX agent from Kentucky’s Bluegrass Depot had been had been configured so as to be ineffective. The depot stores over 500 tons of chemical warfare agents in 45 storage units called igloos. Van Winkle operates air-monitoring units designed to detect leaks of chemical warfare agents. A release of the chemical agents in the igloos could sicken or kill facility staff and, under worst case scenarios, to the surrounding civilian populations.
Pending investigations reportedly have already confirmed some of Van Winkle’s reports. Moreover, the official seeking to remove Van Winkle is implicated in these multi-agency probes.
“Donald Van Winkle is a patriot, not a security risk,” stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, whose organization is representing Van Winkle, noting that recently issued Army Ethical Standards define ethical behavior as “the will to do what is right and proper regardless of personal cost.” “Our security is compromised, not by people like Donald Van Winkle, but by Army officials who cover up vulnerabilities in the chemical weapons stockpile.”
Unlike other personnel actions, the loss of the type of security clearance held by Van Winkle is not reviewable by outside authorities. The final decision is made by the same command (the Army Chemical Materials Agency) which brought the “disgruntled” behavior charges. If Van Winkle loses his clearance and is not given a non-chemical weapons assignment, he will likely be terminated from federal service.
“Franz Kafka would feel right at home in Army Chemical Materials Agency,” Condit added. “The very officials whom Van Winkle accurately accused of incompetence and negligence will decide his fate.”
Tomorrow, the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations will hold a hearing entitled “National Security Whistleblowers in the post-9/11 Era: Lost in a Labyrinth and Facing Subtle Retaliation.” In the hearing announcement, Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT), the subcommittee chair, stated:
“Suspension or revocation of a security clearance can have the same chilling effect as demotion or firing, but clearance actions are virtually unreviewable. Those with whom we trust the nation’s secrets should not be second class citizens when it comes to asserting their rights to speak truth to power.”
The Army Chemical Materials Agency will render its decision on whether to permanently disqualify Van Winkle by the end of the month.