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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Franz Gayl, Troop Safety Whistleblower

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From 2003 to early 2008, over 60 percent of all American troop deaths in Iraq were a result of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) – homemade roadside bombs. One would think that if a Pentagon staffer detailed a simple way to greatly reduce these casualties, it would be met by higher-ups with welcome, and enacted as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately for Franz Gayl, a civilian Marine Corps official (and former Marine himself), he found that requests for the obvious solution to this problem became lost in bureaucracy while our soldiers continued to die. When he raised concerns to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), and later Congress and the media, he succeeded in accelerating the delivery of better-armored vehicles and a number of counter-IED surveillance systems. However, in the process of making his disclosures he unexpectedly made himself a target of unjust retaliation.

GAP has guided Gayl during his fight. The Corps reprimanded Gayl for speaking out, lowering his once-stellar performance evaluations. His security clearance was revoked – essentially preventing him from fulfilling his duties. The Corps even tried to indefinitely suspend him without pay. After a long and arduous battle, Gayl is now able to resume his old job duties. Throughout this ordeal, GAP has assisted him legally by taking him on as a client and fighting these unjust actions. We have also worked to help Gayl's story receive the attention it deserved from major media outlets, such as the Associated PressUSA Today,Washington PostNPR's On The Media, and the Washington Monthly.

Background

Gayl has spent a lifetime serving his country, enlisting in the Marines the day after his 17th birthday in 1974. After retiring in 2002, he was hired as a science adviser to the Corps at the Pentagon.

In February 2007, after returning from a five-month stay in Iraq, Gayl increased scrutiny of the situation surrounding the delivering of several military items including Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs), various battlefield surveillance systems, and 'directed energy' non-lethal weapons.

MRAPs are vehicles that are more able to protect troops from IED blasts than were armored Humvees – the more common protective vehicle in service at that time. In fact, Marines and soldiers riding in Humvees during IED attacks are more than ten times as likely to suffer death or maiming than if they were riding in MRAPs. The Humvee design was especially susceptible to IED attacks, as it had a comparatively low mass and several of its critical parts were made of flammable aluminum. Its flat, concave bottom ended up focusing blast energy, essentially creating a "death trap" for soldiers. However, the requests for more than 1,000 MRAPs were held up in the Marine Corps bureaucracy for 19 months during the height of the Iraqi insurgency. Gayl discovered that in 2005, MRAPs were never intended to be fielded in needed numbers because they competed for funding against bureaucratically-wed programs, including the Humvee program. Had MRAPs been available to troops, Gayl maintained, they could have prevented hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries.

Separately, Gayl found that there had been numerous field requests for effective, 'directed energy' non-lethal weapons, which momentarily incapacitate targets from hundreds of yards away. These technologies would have greatly reduced the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqi citizens killed in incidents where they simply failed to respond to instructions from military personnel at security checkpoints. Dating back to 2001, Corps personnel requested the development of these laser and millimeter wave weapons to give troops non-lethal alternatives. Again, they competed for funding against programmatic interests of the bureaucracy and were never properly developed or fielded.

His Need to Speak the Truth

While still in Iraq, Gayl wanted to make his concerns about the chronic delay and denial in fulfillment of soldiers' requests for better combat systems – especially MRAPs – known to Defense Department decision-makers. Unfortunately, when inside-the-beltway Marine managers realized that his invited presentation would reveal gross mismanagement within their bureaucracy, Gayl's superiors stopped him from presenting his observations to the OSD. Additionally, his supervisors issued him a written admonishment, and told him to delete all drafts of his would-be presentation. Gayl's job description was also rewritten to diminish his duties relevant to science and technology, those for which he was hired.

But Gayl conducted an MRAP study anyway – a study that identified several ways that the Marine Corps dropped the ball, including how:

  • Marine Corps bureaucrats failed to acknowledge and act on IED effectiveness. Instead of approving MRAP funding, they simply added more armor to the inferior Humvees.
  • An urgent 2005 request for MRAPs by the American General in charge of Marine forces in Iraq was, in the words of the Associated Press, "lost in bureaucracy."
  • Marine Corps staff failed to provide top leaders correct information, resulting in "inaccurate and incomplete" information about MRAPs being passed on to Congress and the Defense Department Joint Staff.
  • Marine Corps procurement officials felt MRAPs were, again according to the AP, an "expensive obstacle to long-range plans for equipment that was more mobile and fit into the Marines Corps' vision as a rapid reaction force."

In 2008, Gayl completed other studies on surveillance systems and non-lethal systems. Many of his findings paralleled those of his MRAP study with respect to bureaucratic internal funding interests repeatedly overruling legitimate soldier requests for combat equipment.

Going Public

After returning from Iraq in 2007, Gayl saw how the Corps responded to his internal whistleblowing, and he knew he had to go public. With assistance from GAP and our sister organization POGO, Gayl disclosed his unclassified observations to both the media and Congress. Beginning in 2007, major media outlets began publishing an explosive series of articles on his disclosures. More details on corrupted management practices were revealed to Congress and the press after Gayl disclosed his unclassified case studies in 2008.

Gayl's efforts on each issue resulted in action from prominent US lawmakers. Following their letters to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Marine Commandant in 2007, then-Senators Joe Biden (D-De) and Kit Bond (R-Mo) called for a probe into Gayl's disclosures in 2008. Along with the late Ted Kennedy (D- Ma), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the senators took action, including calling on the DoD to perform a complete review of how the Pentagon handles urgent wartime requests for equipment. In 2007, Sens. Biden and Bond also called on the Corps to stop their retaliation against Gayl. In 2008 Sens. Kennedy and McCaskill did the same.

The Marines responded to Gayl's effective efforts with ugly personal harassment and attempted retaliation from every angle. His supervisors insisted that Gayl engaged in theft of Corps' intellectual property when he used unclassified information he learned on the job to blow the whistle to Congress. The Corps even reprimanded him specifically for communicating with General Petraeus in response to an urgent request initiated by the General. Military officers supervising his work engaged in obscene public name-calling in an attempt to brand him a "coward" for daring to challenge Corps activities. The Corps gave him performance evaluations that placed him in the bottom 3% of over 160 National Security Personnel system employees within his pay pool, when he had a spotless record prior to this (including a Commanding General recommendation to consider him for the Senior Executive Service in his personnel evaluation coming out of Iraq).

In 2010, three years after Gayl first blew the whistle, his security clearance was revoked. Unfortunately, this is a common retaliatory practice for intelligence whistleblowers as it prevents them from completing job duties. The Corps followed this by placing him on administrative leave. GAP stood by Gayl's side as he has remained committed to his principle of protecting the lives of both American troops and foreign civilians by speaking out on the procurement failures of military bureaucracy.

During these various stages of retaliation, there was no question in the public information sphere that Gayl's actions saved lives. In June 2011, shortly before leaving his position, then-Secretary Gates stated that MRAP deployment saved "thousands of lives" in an interview with USA Today. Today, these vehicles are in wide use by troops throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. Gayl's courage did not deserve the retaliatory treatment he received.

His determination paid off. In September 2011, the Corps proposed his indefinite suspension without pay – essentially a firing. In October 2011, the Merit Systems Protection Board granted a 45-day stay request from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that prevented the Corps from taking this action until the OSC had a chance to investigate. Days later, GAP and POGO continued to champion Gayl's case by delivering petitions to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (with nearly 4,000 signatures combined) demanding that the retaliation against Gayl stop.

In November 2011, the Marine Corps reinstated Gayl's security clearance eligibility, allowing him to resume his regular work duties. A full interview with Gayl is available here.

Right, GAP's Shanna Devine holding one of the petitions.

Aftermath

This is a great victory, not just for Gayl, but for whistleblowers in general. "I want to express my deepest thanks to all who have supported me throughout this ordeal," stated Gayl. "It goes without saying that absent the continuous advocacy of GAP and POGO, I would have been forced from government service years ago."

Gayl's determination and perseverance is a model to patriots everywhere. Few whistleblowers can lay claim that they saved lives through their actions – let alone thousands of our nation's troops. Franz Gayl demonstrated bravery throughout this ordeal, proving that – even facing powerful military bureaucracies – truth can effectively fight wrongdoing.

GAP is pleased that Gayl is finally getting the recognition as a whistleblower that he deserves. His courageous actions saved untold soldiers' lives in Iraq, and today in Afghanistan. However, while this win is an encouraging step forward for whistleblower protection, it will not necessarily be the norm for future whistleblowers until Congress has finally codified better protections into law.