The FBI raided the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant on June 6, 1989, to collect evidence of alleged environmental lawbreaking by plant operator Rockwell International. A Special Grand Jury that spent two-and-a-half years reviewing the evidence in the case called operations at the site “an ongoing criminal enterprise” and called for indictment of several DOE and Rockwell officials. On March 26, 1992, the Department of Justice, however, bypassed the grand jury and announced an out-of-court settlement with Rockwell in which the company pleaded guilty to relatively minor offenses, paid a fine and was absolved of any other wrongdoing. The judge in the case ordered the grand jurors not to reveal anything they had learned in their investigation, and he sealed 65 cartons of documents from the case in the Denver federal courthouse.
In March 2004 Wes McKinley, foreman of the grand jury that reviewed the evidence in the case against Rockwell, and attorney Caron Balkany published The Ambushed Grand Jury, in which they assert that the real purpose of the grand jury investigation was not to prosecute the principal crimes committed at Rocky Flats but to cover them up. They accordingly called for public access to the 65 cartons of documents sealed by court order. After all, the Superfund cleanup at Rocky Flats was nearing completion, and the government agencies responsible for the cleanup had not reviewed the documents in these cartons. This triggered several months of juggling over the 65 cartons.
In May 2004 then-U.S. Attorney John Suthers (now Colorado Attorney General) announced he’d consider making some of the contents of these cartons available to federal and state regulators of the cleanup. He specified that he meant only documents collected during the FBI raid, not later testimony before the grand jury. Then-Rep. Mark Udall, in whose district Rocky Flats was located, had asked Suthers to make this material available to the regulators, that is, EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). All this was duly reported in the media.
Three months later Ann Imse, writing in the Rocky Mountain News, reported that no one from EPA or CDPHE had asked to review the documents. Spokespersons for these agencies said they did not want to go through all those documents.
In the midst of this backing and forthing regarding the sealed documents, on August 18 former Rocky Flats worker Jacque Brever appeared at a news conference with Wes McKinley and Caron Balkany. At this event, she released a closely documented report alleging that some nuclear waste in the environment at Rocky Flats will not be cleaned up because DOE had provided misleading information to the EPA and CDPHE. http://www.utwatch.org/war/jacquebrever_rockyflatscleanup.html On September 2, the DC-based trade paper Inside Energy quoted a letter sent to Brever by a DOE official at Rocky Flats saying that “no new information about the nature and extent of the environmental contamination at the Site is contained in your paper” and that every area mentioned by Brever had been investigated and included in the cleanup plans for the site. The Inside Energy article contains this telling sentence from Attorney Caron Balkany: “DOE does not deny our documentation that it submitted false data” to the regulators. I read the Rocky Flats official’s letter to Brever at the time that it was sent. It consists wholly of empty assertions devoid of documentation or substantiation of any sort. On that same day, September 2, the Boulder Daily Camera carried an AP article covering much of the same ground as the Inside Energy piece, though the Camera quotes Jon Lipsky, who had led the 1989 FBI raid on Rocky Flats, saying that Brever’s “report was correct.”
What now can be said about the 65 cartons of documents from the FBI raid and the grand jury investigation of Rockwell?
- First, we know that the FBI raid and subsequent grand jury investigation focused on possible violation of federal environmental laws at Rocky Flats.
- Second, we do not know if the 65 cartons of documents that remain sealed in the Denver federal courthouse contain data that should have been reviewed by those responsible for the Superfund cleanup at Rocky Flats. We do know that in 2006 EPA and CDPHE certified the cleanup without ever reviewing these documents, though they had been given the opportunity to review at least some of them.
- Third, given the remarks by Brever and Lipsky and others not cited here (especially some former Rocky Flats workers who recorded their complaints in the Rocky Flats Oral History Project; go to http://www.boulderlibrary.org/oralhistory/ and see Rocky Flats under Special Collections), it is not irrational to want public access to those 65 cartons of documents. I specifically say public access, not government access, because the government agencies responsible for the cleanup at Rocky Flats have already let us down.
- Fourth, until the public has unfettered access to the sealed 65 cartons of documents, there can be no conclusion that the cleanup done at Rocky Fats is adequate, much less that the site is safe. An invisible cloud hangs over everything having to do with Rocky Flats.