Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Curious Data Point of Espionage and the Surveillance State

We're scheduled to attend an event in Los Alamos next weekend. It will be our first trip up there, and last weekend we asked a friend who is retired from the labs whether we would have to pass muster at the guard-gate, and he laughed.

He said that when he first went up to Los Alamos to visit some people he knew who lived there, he was stopped at the East Entrance Guard Gate, and he had to identify himself, say what his business was, and when he said he was visiting, he had to provide the names and phone numbers of those whom he sought to see. The guard then called, and the people he was there to visit had to come fetch him at the gate and return with him to sign him out when his visit was done.

Sometime later when he was to be interviewed for a job at the labs (we actually don't know what he did there), he said he had to arrange for a pass to get into Los Alamos and then onto the facility, and it took several weeks -- he thought because he had to pass a preliminary background check or something -- and then he had to surrender the pass after the interview. The security system at that time was probably stricter than it had been during World War II when the very existence of the Los Alamos labs was secret.

He said there's no restriction on access to the town any more. There are no guards, no gates. It's all quite open... well, we'll see.

I saw on the news last night that a Los Alamos couple had plead guilty to espionage for attempting to turn over nuclear weapons secrets to... Venezuela. And I thought, "What kind of fuckery is this?!" I was not familiar with the story previously, though apparently it has been ongoing for several years and has been national news more than once.

I'm still trying to fathom it.

It appears this may be another good example of what happens to would be whistle blowers these days.

As it was announced on the news last night, the couple had made no actual overtures to share nuclear secrets with Venezuela; at all times they were being handled by FBI agents, and in fact they were arrested by FBI agents posing as Venezuelans. Yet another FBI sting operation...

Ah, but the whistle blower aspect has me intrigued.

According to this NPR story from three years ago, Pedro Leo Mascheroni was laid off from the labs back in 1988, and from that moment began what amounted to a crusade to blow the whistle on what he saw as gross mismanagement at the labs and titanic wastes of money on nonfunctional weapons systems. This goes back to 1988!

You could call Mascheroni a crackpot or a crank. That's certainly not unheard of in the physicist community, but many people apparently saw him as a true whistle blower regardless of any character or personality flaws (relate this to the constant calls to ignore any character or personality flaws of Assange, Manning, Snowden, Greenwald, et al, and concentrate solely on their revelations...).

From the time of his dismissal at the labs in 1988 -- apparently for his abrasive personality and his insistence on the merits of his own proposal for laser-fusion -- until his arrest in 2010 (and perhaps beyond, it's hard to say) he was insistent on communicating his dissatisfaction with the mismanagement he says he witnessed at the labs with some of the highest of the mighty in the land.

He would send dense and detailed letters to government leaders demanding action on both the mismanagement and waste of money he witnessed at the labs and on his own proposals for laser-fusion. On and on and on he went. It must have been terribly annoying, but according to former CIA director (and prominent neo-con spokesmouth) Leonard Woolsey, Mascheroni's proposals had merit.

OK then. Fast forward to 2007, and according to the indictment, Masceroni made contact with the Embassy of Venezuela, to what object is unstated. Later, in 2008, the FBI began a sting operation, in which an agent posed as a Venezuelan representative interested in nuclear energy. Mascheroni then agreed to provide the agent with a detailed 132 page report entitled "A Deterrence Program for Venezuela" (edited by his wife Marjorie, who was a technical writer at the Los Alamos labs until 2010)  which included information on Mascheroni's pet laser-fusion project as well as information on building a small nuclear weapons arsenal. His fee would be $793,000. Some cash is paid by the FBI agent.

In 2009, the Mascheroni home in Los Alamos is raided by the FBI. Documents and computers are seized. Almost a year later, in September of 2010, the Mascheronis are indicted for espionage and disclosing government secrets, violations of the Atomic Energy Act. They plead not guilty.

Three years later, they plead guilty and avoid trial.

Except for the length of time this story has been running (since at least 1988), it is typical of the kinds of dissent and disagreement and subterfuge that go on in whistle-blower cases, and it's typical in the way the FBI arranges to entrap trouble-makers of any kind (whether they be perfidious Muslims, Occupiers, whistle-blowers or something else) into felony charges which lead to said trouble-makers being silenced or sent away. It's become routine, so routine few even notice any more.

I don't know enough about this particular case to understand it in detail (and there is some highly detailed information available that I don't wish to get into at this point). But the outline is so similar to so many other whistle-blower and dissenter and perfidious Muslim cases that it's clear enough that it follows a common pattern.

"Step out of line, the man come and take you away."

There have been so many already, and here's another one in my own backyard as it were.

Additionally: so far as I know, Mascheroni never went to the media with his whistle-blowing, he only dealt with elected officials and administration personnel. 

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