Investigation at local spy shop
By Timothy W. Maier
Federal prosecutors are reviewing records and documents to determine whether criminal charges are warranted against senior officials at the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) for gross mismanagement by bullying employees in violation of federal work rules.
The FBI opened its investigation shortly after this reporter began asking questions about bizarre "good-ole-boy" behavior at the super-secret military facility on Route 29 North. An earlier article detailed allegations of computer monitoring, obstruction of justice, and breach of federal work rules and civil-rights laws at the NGIC.
The FBI aggressively has pursued the charge of selective computer monitoring, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is preparing a class-action lawsuit. The NAACP Federal Sector Task Force, which investigates civil-rights abuses, has been meeting with NGIC employees in Alexandria for months.
The task force has published its findings in a special internal report. "According to the data and information provided to the NAACP Federal Sector Task Force, Intelligence Security Command (INSCOM) has a long-standing history and tradition of being a closed fraternal-like organization that practices discriminatory actions in the workplace against those who are not part of their closely knit community," the report states. "In most instances, the victims of such discrimination were racial minorities and whites who failed to meet certain unwritten and unpublicized criteria put in place by the agency's ruling elite."
The scathing report alleging elitist bullying at the spy center also charges that sexual and romantic relationships often led to promotions there. A series of cases is outlined to support the allegations, including one in which a white senior manager reportedly had an affair with his secretarial aide. The secretary was "mysteriously promoted to a professional position, although she lacked experience," the report states. Shortly afterward, the senior officer, who left the agency, divorced his wife and married the former aide.
The report further notes that employees who have filed allegations of employment discrimination have written letters to senior officials at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requesting an investigation, but have received "zero response." Meanwhile, whistle-blowers claim, they have suffered daily intimidation.
When the story about troubles at the spy center was first published, NGIC’s Commander Col. Michael Rosenbaum and Deputy Director Bill Rich were livid, say sources close to NGIC. An inside source quotes a furious Rich as declaring: "Tell those people they can't get away with embarrassing this command."
Both Rich and Rosenbaum refused to make themselves available for questions concerning the allegations, referring all inquiries to Martie Cenkci, chief spokeswoman for INSCOM. She claims the allegations of surreptitious computer monitoring were investigated, but that no basis was found for the complaint. She also insists that the spy center is committed to hiring minorities– never mind that there is only one black employed by the command with a senior government grade of 15, and that he is assigned to the Washington Navy Yard, not Charlottesville.
Internal memos this reporter obtained suggest management viewed the whistle-blowers who initiated the inquiry as "malcontents" with axes to grind. The so-called malcontents since have been "socially isolated, and that was to be expected," says a source close to spy-center management. "One employee used to talk to them from time to time but was told if [he] knew what was good for [his] career, [he] would stay away from them."
In the aftermath of the story and on a sad note, NGIC Afghanistan senior intelligence analyst Robert Fontaine, who was fighting to clear his name of trumped-up charges of mail fraud levied against him after he filed an EEOC age-discrimination complaint against spy-center management, has died of cancer. A week before his death, he was supposed to meet this reporter but canceled because of the 9/11 tragedy. "I lost a lot of friends at the Pentagon," he said in one of his last telephone conversations. "I have 50 funerals to attend."
Fontaine's friends say the added stress of fighting the charges, which doctors say led to his severe depression, no doubt contributed to his untimely death.
How much retaliation has occurred since the story was published? Whistle-blowers who portrayed NGIC as a "plantation" run by a racist "Southern-boys network" cite these recent developments:
• Intelligence analyst Steve Jenkins, who charged that his computer was illegally monitored after he supported a discrimination complaint by fellow analyst Alice Lewis, was removed from an intelligence project to a less-desirable assignment. His voicemail was then deliberately disconnected, and he was moved to another desk. "I was the only analyst permanently reassigned after 9/11," he says.
• Lewis, who is one of at least 24 center employees in the last four years to file an EEOC complaint, had earned an exceptional rating last year and was supposed to receive a performance award valued at about $1,500. Senior management now says the paperwork for the merit award was "lost."
• Korea analyst James Harrison, another whistle-blower, was downgraded in his performance review after consistently receiving outstanding marks.
• Barbara Jenkins, the wife of Steve Jenkins, failed to receive recognition– which was afforded others– for identifying al-Qaeda as the terrorist network that attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon. "She identified the organization within one hour of that plane hitting the World Trade Center– perhaps the fastest intelligence analyst to do so," her husband says.
• Senior intelligence analyst William Cruse, yet another whistle-blower, was placed on indefinite leave without pay after the story was published. Senator George Allen (R-Va.) is looking into the matter.
Even so, NGIC Deputy Director Rich, who now admits authorizing the bizarre computer surveillance of Jenkins, Lewis, and Harrison, was honored March 7 at the Pentagon by the Secretary of the Army with the Presidential Rank Award for the intelligence activities of his analysts. Ironically, the award was presented the same day the FBI concluded its probe and turned its findings over to U.S. Attorney Jean Hudson in Charlottesville. Hudson did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
The whistle-blowers now are concerned that the U.S. attorney might bury the charges, noting that none of the victims in the case were interviewed by the lone FBI agent sent to investigate the charges.
"The FBI didn't talk to any of the expert witnesses," Steve Jenkins says. "And how can you say you investigated the case when you didn't even talk to the victims? I am concerned that undue influence is being applied." Jenkins and others have met with a U.S. Attorney on April 30.
Not surprisingly, it does not sit well with senior management at the spy center that shortly after Insight published its report, it was republished in C-ville, and a copy of that edition of C-ville was included in the White House daily press clippings, widely read not only at the White House but at the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, this reporter was besieged with dozens of emails, letters, and telephone calls from former and current employees claiming that widespread discrimination and workforce violations were a problem long before the Army's Foreign Science and Technology Center in Charlottesville and the Intelligence and Threat Analysis Center in Washington merged in 1994 to become NGIC.
According to a former NGIC senior manager, problems go well beyond the 24 EEOC complaints filed against the managers of the spy center in the last four years. Inside sources say that when 17 positions at NGIC were supposed to be eliminated in 1999, the managers fired six black women and one black man while other jobs were found for white employees. A black employee who was close to retirement was fired without any benefit package, but a white employee with a similar background was given a payout to retire.
Representative Porter Goss (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has been briefed on the allegations, but still has not reached out to the whistle-blowers.
For now, NGIC has gone back to what some employees claim it does best– spying on its own people– by installing "keystroke monitoring." The system is set up so that every time an employee types a letter, managers can read it over their shoulders as they type. The system was supposed to be disabled, after many employees complained, but it has not been.
Timothy W. Maier is a writer for Insight, the national news magazine of the Washington Times.