By RICHARD LARDNER
WASHINGTON (AP) – A Marine Corps whistleblower who exposed the service’s failure to quickly deliver life-saving armored vehicles and other gear to troops in Iraq can return to work after military authorities reinstated his top-secret security clearance, his attorneys said Wednesday.
Franz Gayl, a senior civilian employee, was close to losing his job as a science and technology adviser at Marine Corps headquarters following allegations that an unsecure flash drive had been inserted into his work computers. Gayl and his attorneys at the Government Accountability Project, a public interest group in Washington, said the claim was false and one of a series of retaliatory actions taken against him for speaking out. There were no witnesses who saw him use the drive, they said, the disk was never located, nor was there any evidence such a disk had ever been manufactured.
Gayl has been on paid administrative leave since October 2010 after his security clearance was suspended. The Marine Corps had been planning to suspend him indefinitely without pay. Without the proper clearance, he couldn’t do his job. Gayl is a former Marine Corps officer.
Maj. Stewart Upton, a Marine Corps spokesman, declined to address the specifics of Gayl’s case. He said personnel matters are subject to privacy laws and regulations, but added that the “Marine Corps takes very seriously the proper handling and resolution of any employee issues, and as in any other case we are taking the appropriate actions.”
The decision to restore Gayl’s top-secret clearance was made last week. The Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent federal appeals panel, last month granted a request for a 45-day halt of Gayl’s indefinite suspension to give investigators time to examine whether the move was punitive. Before that period had expired, a Navy Department office that makes security clearance determinations restored his eligibility for a top-secret clearance making the suspension irrelevant, his attorneys said. Gayl goes back to work on Monday, they said.
Beginning in 2007, Gayl accused the Marine Corps of gross mismanagement for failing to answer the call in 2005 for heavy-duty trucks called MRAPs (M-raps) that could withstand roadside bombs in Iraq. The trucks would eventually be delivered in large numbers to all of the military services and were credited with saving thousands of lives. Gayl also said requests from commanders in the field for other key technologies that could help troops disperse crowds and detect explosives were slow to be delivered because of flaws in the acquisition system and internal disputes over money.
In early 2008, then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, a leading Democrat in Congress, used Gayl’s disclosures to hammer the Bush administration for “unconscionable bureaucratic delays” in getting equipment to U.S. forces in combat. Biden, now vice president, called Gayl a hero and urged Marine Corps leaders to make sure he wasn’t punished.
But in a complaint filed in July with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency that investigates workplace reprisal complaints, Gayl’s attorneys said he suffered repeated administrative punishments for his disclosures. Gayl received poor performance evaluations that ranked him in the bottom three percent of employees at his grade, received a letter of reprimand, had his job description rewritten and was pressured to resign. He was also branded as a coward in his office. Before his whistleblowing, Gayl had a sterling record, his attorneys said.