Toxic Shocker!

The government ambushed the Rocky Flats grand jury. Now its foreman is gunning for justice.

And doing it for a long, long time.

McKinley and Balkany worked on their Citizens' Investigation for years, searching out records, filing Freedom of Information requests, tracking down people involved in the original investigation. Two of them became key players in the book. Jacque Brever was working at Rocky Flats when the plant was raided; she and her roommate later talked to the FBI -- and as thanks, Brever was sabotaged on the job, contaminated with plutonium. Still, she testified before the grand jury about clandestine midnight burning of plutonium in Building 771 -- and as thanks, a government prosecutor later told Congress that she was "not a very reliable witness." After the government's deal with Rockwell was announced -- the agreement even stated that no midnight burnings had occurred -- Brever quit Rocky Flats and left Colorado for a decade.

But when Balkany tracked her down, the Citizens' Investigation found Brever's testimony very reliable -- alarmingly so, since the government had gone out of its way to deny the existence of those burns. "I have concluded that it didn't occur," then-governor Roy Romer said in October 1989, when everything about the grand jury's work was supposed to be secret -- but someone had leaked information about who was testifying. "For that incinerator to run at midnight without people knowing it would be virtually impossible." Brever knew about it, though, and the FBI's infrared pictures taken over the plant backed her story. (Balkany had requested a copy of Brever's FBI interview; the last six pages were entirely blacked out.)

FBI agent Jon Lipsky had engineered the raid on Rocky Flats, only to find that there had been plenty of engineering behind his back. Although he'd worked hard to get the search warrant sealed, since it provided lots of details about the reported crimes at the plant, including the secret burns and off-site contamination, the Justice Department made it public, allowing Rockwell to plot its legal strategy. In the summer of 1991, when the grand jury was ready to start making indictments, Lipsky was already hearing that a deal was in the works. And in January 1993, three days after Congress released the Wolpe Report, which determined that the Justice Department had "bargained away the truth" in its handling of the Rocky Flats investigation, Lipsky was transferred to Los Angeles, where the FBI's lead environmental investigator was assigned to work with gangs.

An open letter from Lipsky to Congress leads off the book:

"I am an FBI agent. My superiors have ordered me to lie about a criminal investigation I headed in 1989. We were investigating the US Department of Energy, but the US Justice Department covered up the truth.

"I have refused to follow the orders to lie about what really happened during that criminal investigation of Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. Instead, I have told the author of this book the truth. Her promise to me if I told her what really happened was that she would put it in a book to tell Congress and the American people."

She did. Once the Citizens' Investigation was complete, Balkany sent the project to Edith Holleman, an attorney assigned to the Democratic staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who'd done much of the work on the Wolpe Report. But this time around, Holleman couldn't get a representative interested. So McKinley and Balkany turned the Citizens' Investigation into a book and convinced the non-profit Council on International and Public Affairs to publish it this month on the Apex Books label.

Just in the nick of time, too. Rocky Flats quit producing plutonium triggers long ago. In fact, the plant never went back into production after the raid. Kaiser-Hill took over management of the facility site in 1995 and is supervising the cleanup. Today, in accordance with the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act of 2001, the 6,266-acre site is in the process of becoming a refuge, which will be under the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rather than the DOE. Fish & Wildlife's draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for Rocky Flats was released last month, complete with the slogan "Where the Mountains Meet the Prairie" and pictures of the endangered Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse that frolics on the plant property; comments on the plan are being taken through April 26, with public hearings starting this week. The four possible options:

• No Action, which would mean that once the site is officially cleaned up, a task that should be completed by 2006, there will be no public use.

• Wildlife, Habitat and Public Use, including more than a dozen miles of trails for bicycles and horses along current roads. This is the action Fish & Wildlife has proposed, and it closely follows what's been done at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

• Ecological Restoration, which would return the site to its predevelopment condition, allowing some public use.

• Public Use, with much of the site open to all, a nineteen-mile trail system, and "environmental education efforts" that "would include on- and off-site programs for kindergarten through college-age students."

That idea scares the worn blue jeans off Wes McKinley. He visited Rocky Flats once, when the grand jurors were taken on a school-bus tour of the plant. He saw the pondcrete, a Rockwell innovation that mixed radioactive waste with concrete to create a sloppy, leaking mess. He saw building 771 -- from a distance -- where the midnight burning had taken place. He got angry about what had been done to the land. The future.

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