By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
As if the FBI hadn't taken a big enough hit for its handling of documents in the Oklahoma City bombing trials, Soldier of Fortune Magazine is set to report in its August issue that munitions stored at the bureau's Hoover Building headquarters in Washington, D.C., blew up in 1987.
The blast is said to have gutted the crime lab and destroyed evidence in several major cases.
In recent months, the lab itself has been under attack, especially for its slipshod analysis of the Oklahoma City bombing. According to Soldier of Fortune, the feds covered up the D.C. explosion by saying it was a fire in a broom closet.
Freelancer J.D. Cash, a reporter for the eastern Oklahoma McCurtain Gazette, said he stumbled onto the story of the FBI explosion when he interviewed rescue workers who said they'd seen munitions inside the Murrah Federal Building. He later queried an ATF agent about why the feds would store explosives in a public place, and remembers the agent laughingly saying it was a common practice and had actually resulted in an explosion at FBI headquarters.
That led Cash, joined by the former network TV producer and investigator for the Timothy McVeigh defense team, Roger Charles, to submit Freedom of Information inquiries to the FBI. Four years later, the agency made available its internal report, along with photos.
The McCurtain Gazetteis in the process of putting the findings on its Web site. In addition, Soldier of Fortune will include excerpts from the 197-page report. They indicate that in the predawn hours of May 5, 1987, military explosivesincluding Soviet-made rocket-propelled grenadesripped through evidence lockers at the crime lab. The authors claim the FBI report acknowledged that lab personnel ignored cardboard boxes sitting on the floor. These contained some 22 pounds of the explosive C4, numerous blasting caps, and several pounds of TNT.
Reached on Monday, FBI spokesperson Bill Carter gave a limited account of the incident. "It was a fire," he said. "It occurred in the FBI lab, in the explosive unit. It wasn't an explosion, not a traditional explosion. The fire did cause some damage, and it was in the middle of the night. I still remember it. I came in and the fire engines were here."
Cash and Charles write that the internal FBI document describes a firestorm that "threatened the lives of FBI personnel and firefighters, as missiles and shrapnel blasted through evidence cabinets and tore gaping holes in the walls of the world-famous crime lab."
Vice President Dick Cheney wandered wide of the mark last month when he pronounced France a model of nuclear energy for the fuel-strapped U.S. "Right now we've got waste piling up at reactors all over the country," he told CNN. "Eventually, there ought to be a permanent repository. The French do this very successfully and very safely in an environmentally sound, sane manner. We need to be able to do the same thing."
This is wrong. Despite drawing 80 percent of its electricity from nukes, France has been unable to establish a nuclear dumpsane, safe, or otherwise. Each new proposal has been blocked by public opinion, forcing the government to abandon plans for developing these projected waste sites. Plutonium wastes in the northern part of the country are dumped into the English Channel, igniting an uproar in other European nations.
Eleven of the 15 member states of the European Union have ruled out nuclear power as a source of electricity. In France, some reports show 60 percent of the people are against it. Meanwhile, the pro-nuclear lobby in France is getting it from all sides. It turns out France pols lied to the population, claiming there were no ill effects from Chernobyl. As elsewhere in Europe, there are "hot spots" of radiation. That has led to a suit against the French government by 120 citizens who say they've been sickened.
In addition, the French government is being hauled before the European Court because it can't seem to set safety standards for radioactivity.
Meanwhile, the industry has had several close calls. During the big storm that ravaged the continent in December 1999, a reactor in the south of France at Blayais was badly damaged. Buildings were flooded and half the pumps that provide cooling water for the big reactor went on the blink, nearly causing a meltdown. The French nuclear safety office ordered Electricité de France to get a grip on the problem of cooling valves that fail to open.
"Why it took so long before this design fault was noticed is not clear," writes WISE, an Amsterdam antinuke group. "What is clear is that 12 French reactors have been operating for many years despite design faults in their emergency core cooling systems. It is therefore fortunate that none of the reactors have experienced serious loss-of-coolant incidents."
The veep may look to France as an example, but France looks to gas turbines for the future. Didier Anger, a founder of the Green Party, which shares in the ruling coalition government, says the change is overdue. "France made a historic mistake when it decided to rely so heavily on nuclear power, rather than develop more advanced renewable technologies and efficient utilization methods," he says.