Army is sued in alleged wrongful firing Ex-engineer had leaked 'secret' helicopter data during Persian Gulf war

July 29, 1998|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A former Army engineer who caused a national stir during the Persian Gulf war by revealing that the U.S. military was sending under-equipped helicopters into combat is suing the Army, alleging that it wrongfully fired him for leaking "classified" information to the press.

Calvin J. Weber filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday after a 5 1/2 -year battle to gather Army records on his case through public information requests, according to the lawsuit. The records reveal that Army counterintelligence officials once considered prosecuting Weber for the leaks.

Weber, 56, who worked in the Army's Aviation and Missile Command, contends that the information he supplied to reporters during the war was not classified and that the Army fired him because be blew the whistle on a military blunder.

"The Army had not provided the soldiers with the best protection that was readily available, and as a result, the soldiers' lives were placed in harm's way," Weber wrote in the lawsuit, which he filed himself. "There was no classified information [revealed] because all information came from open sources in the public domain."

A spokesman for Army Intelligence at Fort Meade, which is named in the lawsuit, said yesterday that officials had not had a chance to read the lawsuit and therefore would not comment on it.

Weber, who lives in Arnold, Mo., and had worked 19 years as a civilian engineer for the Army, came to public attention in October 1990 when he told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that U.S. helicopters in the Persian Gulf were needlessly vulnerable to Iraqi missile attack.

Weber said in press interviews that 800 of the Army's 1,062 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters lacked infrared suppressors, devices used to cool the exhaust from engines and hide them from heat-seeking missiles.

Of the 300 Blackhawks sent to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf war, only 100 had suppressors, according to Weber's public statements at the time. U.S. pilots, Weber argued, were therefore flying helicopters with less protection than other available helicopters sitting on the ground.

Weber said he noticed that infrared suppressors were missing from the Blackhawk helicopters when he saw pictures in magazines and newspapers during the fall of 1990, when the Army was mobilizing for the Persian Gulf region. The same pictures would have been available to anyone -- even the enemy, he said.

"Here they were, telling me that the enemy could use the information I gave to train gunners, when all the enemy had to do was look at a picture in the newspaper," Weber said.

Army officials never questioned the accuracy of Weber's information.

Blackhawk helicopters were used in the gulf war to carry troops to the front and to evacuate casualties. The Army, which had fired Weber for threatening to go public with the information, immediately began a "counterespionage investigation" of the incident, according to Army records.

Weber appealed the firing and received extensions on his employment with the federal government until 1993, when his firing became official, the lawsuit said.

He said last night that he still feels he did the right thing by letting the public know about the helicopters. The information he provided, he said, was readily available in defense contractor data and Army technical manuals, which are open to the public.

"It was just nuts-and-bolts-type information," said Weber, who said he now makes his living managing rental properties. "It's not what I was saying. It's who I was saying it to."

He is seeking back pay and benefits, which he estimated to be about $500,000, through the lawsuit.

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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