Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

True Lies

Page 2 of 3

Lipsky, who's now eligible for retirement, is still with the FBI in Los Angeles. He left that city five days ago to drive across Arizona, stopping to see some of Colorado's still-beautiful sights before arriving in Denver for the Wednesday press conference, where he would speak publicly about Rocky Flats for the first time, flanked by Balkany, McKinley and Jacque Brever, a former plant employee who gave the FBI much of its inside information. Before this, Lipsky's only public declaration was a letter he wrote Congress in October 2001, which leads off The Ambushed Grand Jury: "I am an FBI agent. My superiors have ordered me to lie about a criminal investigation I headed in 1989. We were investigating the U.S. Department of Energy, but the U.S. 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."

Why tell the truth now? "I want our government to do good-government deeds," he explains. "I think it's really important with the Rocky Flats wildlife act." That's the 2001 law designed to turn the former nuclear-weapons plant into the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. But in making plans for the refuge, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service relied on the DOE's assurances that the area was being properly cleaned of contamination. And Lipsky, McKinley, Balkany and Brever have good reason to believe that the DOE wasn't telling the truth. "DOE made false representations to the regulators as the basis of cleanup plans," writes Brever, who left the plant in March 1992 and subsequently earned a master's degree in environmental policy. "DOE knew them to be false because the FBI investigation proved them false back in 1989-92. DOE resubmitted them to the regulators anyway, and as a result, large areas of land contaminated with radioactive and toxic wastewater were omitted from the cleanup."

What happens here next will affect not just Colorado, but the entire country. "This could be a cookie cutter for the rest of the complex and other sites," says Lipsky. "We need to get the word out."

And he's just the man to do it.

Fact or Fiction?

Jon Lipsky almost made it into Silver City, the movie John Sayles filmed in Colorado last fall that will have its Denver premiere on September 10 at the Paramount Theatre.

Before writing his political potboiler -- which focuses on a gubernatorial candidate who just could be George W. Bush, in a Western state that could be Texas except for the fact that it's clearly Colorado -- Sayles studied local history. He dug into the good, the bad and the very ugly, including the 1989 raid on Rocky Flats. Initially, the script had the grizzled EPA veteran who helps unravel the mystery of Silver City reveal that he'd led that raid, too. "We cut that line out just for length," Sayles says.

But Rocky Flats is never far from the discussion. Sayles is currently talking up Silver City across the country, and he says Rocky Flats comes up in at least half of the interviews. Corporate polluters and Kobe Bryant -- that's what the national press knows about Colorado. (Conveniently, Kobe and Rockwell International, which ran Rocky Flats at the time of the raid, retained the same law firm.) Reports Sayles: "When people ask, 'Why did you shoot in Colorado?,' I tell them that there's this great visual metaphor of a state that people move to because it's so beautiful, but then you have the environmental problems."

For Silver City, he decided to focus on environmental problems below the surface -- leach fields outside the mines that sent toxic waste into the groundwater and into Colorado's pristine lakes. "I couldn't have it all," he says. "Silver City is supposed to be an old mining town, so I got into the mining more than the nuclear waste. But they both left the same legacy, of 'What the hell, we've got to do this, make the money today, worry about the consequences later.' You find it not just in Colorado, but across the country."

Silver City was filmed here, though, and while Colorado looks plenty corrupt in the film, it also looks beautiful. In one stunning scene, Chris Cooper -- playing Dickie Pilager, the gubernatorial candidate who's the not-so-smart son of a veteran politician -- is riding the range with Kris Kristofferson, the corrupt businessman who's made it all possible. They're supposed to be near Silver City, the contaminated area Kristofferson wants to develop into pricey vacation homes, but the scene was actually shot sixteen miles upwind of Denver. "You look down across the highway and you see Rocky Flats," says Sayles.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun