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 Gazette is 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.
Vermont senator Jim Jeffords's defection from the Republican Party is tonic because it brings back memories of Margaret Chase Smith, the heroine of New England's idiosyncratic politicians: honest, sensible, often penurious, stubbornly independent, on occasion loony, but above all, not the ideological turkeys of today's conservative movement.
Smith, a former high school teacher, was the first woman elected to both houses of Congress. She had worked as secretary to her husband, a Republican House member from Maine, and when he died of a heart attack in 1940, she took his seat and gained great popularity. Smith braved the isolationism of the pre-World War II era to support the draft. She also supported Roosevelt's New Deal. Serving on the Armed Services Committee, she successfully pushed for improved conditions and equal pay for women. Elected to the Senate in 1948, she became the first Republican in that chamber to condemn Joseph McCarthy's commie witch-hunts.
This is where Jeffords gets his spine. And his origins go back to a time when the Republican Party, launched in 1854 to fight slavery, was still decent.
Unlike the Connecticut Bushes, always sniffing the wind for a trend to which they could attach themselves, early Republican blue bloods stood on their own. Teddy Roosevelt quit the Republicans to launch the Bull Moose movement. While the vast majority of Congressional Democrats and Republicans followed LBJ spaniel-like into the swamps of Vietnam, Vermont senator George Aiken stood against the war. Moderate Republicans, led by the black Massachusetts senator Edward Brooke, fought for civil rights in the 1960s. They also supported Medicare.
Jeffords backed Clinton's health bill in 1993 and helped reduce Bush's nutso $1.6 trillion tax cut. He has supported gays and lesbians and won the backing of the Human Rights Campaign in his last election. In quitting the party he minced no words: "Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances where I'll disagree with the president on very fundamental issuesthe issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax and spending decisions, missile defense, energy and the environment, and a host of other issues, large and small."
If Jeffords is lumped together with three other New England conservativesOlympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Islanda potential middle-of-the-road bloc emerges. As the Washington Monthly, which carried a lengthy, excellent article in the May issue, observes, "Fiscally conservative, socially tolerant, moderately internationalist, generally pro-environment, tough on crime, and hungry for good government, the Mod Squad, as they like to call themselves, has the power to reshape the agenda in Washington."
Though close to Bush, Snowe opposes the White House plan to drill in the Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and she has warned the president he faces "a 500-year flood" in political terms, adding, "There must be changes. We have to really reflect very seriously as to why this happened and why we lost a good person like Jim Jeffords."
Yet the current shift remains tenuous. For just as Jeffords left the party to let the Dems gain control, that control could tilt back if campaign finance irregularities force New Jersey Democratic senator Bob Torricelli to resign, allowing the GOP governor to appoint a Republican. Or as has often been rumored, John Breaux, the Bush-loving Dem from Louisiana, could switch parties.
Shoved aside by the Democratic South Dakota senator Tom Daschle, the ghastly Southern opportunists and their technocratic Democratic Leadership Council are out, at least temporarily, and, one can hope, forever. If the donkey party can regain control of the House in 2002, a solid possibility, Midwesterners Dick Gephardt and David Bonior will wield real power. The prairie Dems and the New England Republicans might find themselves making a common cause.
Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz and Adam Gray
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.