Military lapse in providing criminal records to FBI is nothing new

There oughta be a law, people say when anything goes awry.

Government officials and bureaucrats can fix it, right?

So, when the guy in Texas killed two dozen churchgoers we learn he should not have been allowed to buy the guns he used under existing law. It seems the law on the books was not enforced. The Air Force was supposed to inform the FBI about his domestic violence conviction, but failed to do so.

It turns out, according to the AP, this is not something new.

“A February 1997 report by the Pentagon inspector general found widespread lapses,” the news service recounts. “Fingerprint cards were not submitted to the FBI criminal history files in more than 80 percent of cases in the Army and Navy, and 38 percent in the Air Force.

“Failure to report the outcome of criminal cases was 79 percent in the Army and 50 percent in the Air Force, the report said. In the Navy, it was 94 percent.”

Laws that are not enforced are useless.

The failure to turnover records about the Texas church shooter is under review. That’s what they said 20 years ago.

Scene of Texas church shooting (AP pix)

 

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First they fought the wars, and then they fought the system … and lost

Where were you in 1966?

Personally, I was still a year away from enlisting in the Air Force, using a student deferment to avoid the draft while figuring out the Army draftees got shot at, but in the Air Force it was the officers who got shot at.

But fodder is fodder.

Today The New York Times recounts the tales of some of the 1,600 untrained airmen who were dispatched in January 1966 to pick up the debris that was left when a B-52 collided with its refueling tanker and dropped its cargo of four nuclear bombs on the Spanish Mediterranean coastal farming village of Palomares.

One landed in soft dirt and another in the sea, but two had their high-explosives surrounding their plutonium cores blast a hole in the earth, scattering radiative material over many acres.

Here are a few telling excerpts from the very lengthy piece relating the 50-year battle those men have gone through:

“There was no talk about radiation or plutonium or anything else,” said Frank B. Thompson, a then 22-year-old trombone player who spent days searching contaminated fields without protective equipment or even a change of clothes. “They told us it was safe, and we were dumb enough, I guess, to believe them.”

Mr. Thompson, 72, now has cancer in his liver, a lung and a kidney. He pays $2,200 a month for treatment that would be free at a Veterans Affairs hospital if the Air Force recognized him as a victim of radiation. …

Of 40 veterans who helped with the cleanup who The New York Times identified, 21 had cancer. Nine had died from it. …

At the crash site, Mr. Slone, a military police officer at the time, said he was given a plastic bag and told to pick up radioactive fragments with his bare hands. “A couple times they checked me with a Geiger counter and it went clear off the scale,” he said. “But they never took my name, never followed up with me.” …

The Air Force also denies any harm was done to 500 other veterans who cleaned up a nearly identical crash in Thule, Greenland, in 1968. Those veterans tried to sue the Defense Department in 1995, but the case was dismissed because federal law shields the military from negligence claims by troops. All of the named plaintiffs have since died of cancer. …

“First they denied I was even there, then they denied there was any radiation,” said Ronald R. Howell, 71, who recently had a brain tumor removed. “I submit a claim, and they deny. I submit appeal, and they deny. Now I’m all out of appeals.” He sighed, then continued. “Pretty soon, we’ll all be dead and they will have succeeded at covering this whole thing up.” …

Plutonium does not emit the type of penetrating radiation often associated with nuclear blasts, which causes immediately obvious health effects, such as burns. It shoots off alpha particles that travel only a few inches and cannot penetrate the skin. Outside the body, scientists say, it is relatively harmless, but specks absorbed in the body, usually through inhaling dust, shoot off a continuous shower of radioactive particles thousands of times a minute, gradually exacting damage that can cause cancer and other diseases decades later. …

The day after the crash, busloads of troops started arriving from United States bases, bringing radiation-detection equipment. William Jackson, a young Air Force lieutenant, helped with some of the first testing near the craters, using a hand-held alpha particle counter that could measure up to two million alpha particles per minute.

“Almost everywhere we pointed the machine it pegged at the highest reading,” he said. “But we were told that type of radiation would not penetrate the skin. We were told it was safe.” …

The Air Force bought tons of contaminated tomatoes from local fields that the Spanish public refused to eat. To assure the public there was no danger, commanders fed the tomatoes to the troops. Though the risk from eating plutonium is much lower than the risk from inhaling it, it is still not safe. …

To assure villagers their homes were safe, the Air Force sent young airmen into local houses with hand-held radiation detectors. Peter M. Ricard, then a 20-year-old cook with no training on the equipment, remembers being told to perform scans of anything locals wanted, but to keep his detector turned off.

“We were just supposed to feign our readings so we didn’t cause turmoil with the natives,” he said in an interview. “I often think about that now. I wasn’t too smart back then. They say do it and you just say, ‘Yes, sir.’” …

Troops started to get sick soon after the cleanup ended. Healthy men in their 20s were crippled by joint pain, headaches and weakness. Doctors said it was arthritis. A young military policeman was plagued by sinus swelling so acute that he would bang his head on the floor to distract himself from the pain. Doctors said it was allergies.

Several men got rashes or growths. An airman named Noris N. Paul had cysts severe enough that he spent six months in the hospital in 1967 getting skin grafts. He also became infertile.

“No one knew what was wrong with me,” Mr. Paul said.

A grocery supply clerk named Arthur Kindler, who had been so covered in plutonium while searching the tomato fields a few days after the blast that the Air Force made him wash off in the ocean and took his clothes, got testicular cancer and a rare lung infection that nearly killed him four years after the crash. In the years since, he has had cancer of his lymph nodes three times.

“It took me a long time to start to realize this maybe had to do with cleaning up the bombs,” Mr. Kindler, 74, said in an interview from his home in Tuscon. “You have to understand, they told us everything was safe. We were young. We trusted them. Why would they lie?”

Mr. Kindler filed twice for help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. “They always denied me,” he said. “Eventually, I just gave up.” …

On a recent rainy morning, Nona A. Watson, a retired science teacher in Buckhead, Ga., held open the door of a veterans medical center in Atlanta for her husband, Nolan F. Watson, who hobbled in, his shuddering hand unable to steady his cane.

As a 22-year-old dog handler, Mr. Watson slept in the dirt just feet from one of the bomb craters the day after the blast. A year later, he was racked by blinding headaches and hips so stiff he could barely walk. At the time, he asked the Department of Veterans Affairs for help. He said he was turned away. For years he had problems with painful joints, kidney stones and localized skin cancer. In 2002, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and one of his kidneys was removed. In 2010, more cancer showed up in his remaining kidney. Recent abnormal blood tests suggested leukemia.

“I think it ruined my life,” he said. “I was young, in good shape. But since that day, I’ve had problems all the time.”

Mr. Watson, now 73, had filed a claim with the veterans agency that was denied and he was in the process of appealing. Other veterans of Palomares had warned him that it was a waste of time. Only one Palomares veteran they knew of had succeeded in claiming harm from radiation, and it took 10 years, at which point he was bedridden with stomach cancer. But Mr. Watson wanted to come to the medical center to give personal testimony about his plutonium exposure.

In the center’s waiting room, his nose began to bleed.

“I’m going to speak my piece, dang it.” Mr. Watson said. “They know this whole thing is a lie.”

According to History.com, in October 2015 the U.S. agreed to finish the 50-year-old cleanup of the site in Palomares. The nuclear-contaminated soil is to be disposed of at a site in the United States. Yucca Mountain perhaps?

NY Times: Some men doing the dustiest work were given coveralls and paper surgical masks for safety, but a later report by the Defense Nuclear Agency said, “It is doubtful that the use of the surgical mask served more than a psychological barrier.” (Air Force photo)