A teaser on the PNNL story

I’ve been sending email around to people I knew wouldn’t really wait to know what happened with PNNL yesterday.  Here’s the basics of what happened. I’ll do the complete time-line with documentation later…

They finally gave us enough evidence that we could reasonably conclude they were incompetent rather than bigoted. It took a motion to compel before they finally gave us some of the information and then doing depositions on some people. I don’t understand why they didn’t turn this information over when we asked for it in our first interrogatory. It would have saved everyone a lot of time and money.

Some of the most basic unchallenged facts I had believed were false. I was told by Gina, on two different occasions, that both she and no one she knew on our team knew anything at all about the investigation. If this was true then the truth or falsity of my claim that I had not posted sensitive information was irrelevant to the investigators and the decision makers. It turns out that Newton, Wayne, and she had actually started the investigation. That Gina and Wayne knew anything at all about it was news to me yesterday. I didn’t know Newton had anything to do with it until my deposition in April of 2007. They should have told us all of this in their first response as we requested. I don’t know why they hid it and required us to go to the judge with a motion to compel to turn it over. Legally they had absolutely nothing to fear from releasing the information–it invalidated my theory of the case.

My lawyer said I could possibly still win the case–but for the wrong reason. Witnesses, Newton in particular, were extremely evasive (for example, refusing to agree, even in principle, to answer yes or no questions with a yes or no rather than a nod of the head and always quibbling about words such as “that depends on what your definition of ‘complain’ is”). Newton and others even gave testimony under oath that I had hard proof was false–all stuff that would look bad to the judge and jury. And Newton even had his own personal file he kept on me which sounds extremely suspicious. The court recorder thought we were joking we told her to pack up because we were done. She thought things were going very well for us. But the bottom line is that all the strange stuff, once we had the truthful critical information, didn’t matter in the big picture so I dropped it. Even if I would have pushed on, which my lawyer almost for certain would not have done had I be so inclined, and won simply because Newton appeared to be hiding information on nearly every response it would have been a hollow victory. Battelle/PNNL would have been screwed because Newton doesn’t know how or perhaps is even unable to be candid and believable. I believed him on the parts that were most important to me because I knew Newton was paranoid even when there wasn’t anything to be paranoid about. And the critical information he provided fit in with other information that that until that point didn’t make any sense.

We are pretty sure this is what happened:

Newton thought maybe I had posted classified (national security type) information on my blog. He talked to Wayne about it–what do we say to Joe? How do we approach him about this? But if it was classified they couldn’t just handle it in private–it would have to be reported. They asked Greg about it. He didn’t know so they went to Chris. Chris, Wayne and Newton debated it and decided just to be safe they should report it and the investigation expanded. It turned out it was not classified, as I knew–but they never asked me. Newton and Wayne were essentially out of the picture now. The bigger investigation which, only initially required Gina’s input, turned up things that looked suspicious and everyone assumed the worst and the process continued to snowball. Finally they fired me without ever asking me except in the most vague terms to which I responded in a somewhat defiant manner. They didn’t even ask people that would have known the truth about the suspicious things they found. They just assumed, perhaps willfully, if it looked bad it was bad. Just three examples:

  1. I was accused of “excessive personal Internet use” because I averaged about 2600 firewall transactions a month to things they believed were not work related – no one bothered to compare it to what other people did. It turned out company average was about 8000 non-work related transactions per month.
  2. They assumed anything gun or explosives related web browsing was not work—which was false. I was bringing my expertise from my hobbies to my work and the investigators didn’t know this.
  3. They found a complete copy of my website, JoeHuffman.org, on the government laptop computer and assumed I was hosting the site from there. Wrong and it doesn’t even make sense–the website would go down when I was traveling with the laptop if that were the case. What really happened was I hosted, at the request of Wayne, a bunch of PNNL project material on my own personal website, JoeHuffman.org for a few days when some material need to go on-line on such short notice that we didn’t have time to go through the usual paperwork to get it on the corporate site. I integrated the PNNL material with my website on the government laptop computer to make sure the cascading style sheets didn’t interfere with each other (I didn’t really understand CSS very well and needed to make sure things were working right together). I had lots of free disk space on the laptop and didn’t bother to delete it afterward.

These and lots of other cascading failures occurred during their investigation process and were completely out of my control and knowledge until the lawsuit and some the information only showed up yesterday. I was “walking on the fence” with my blogging and knew it. They couldn’t quite figure out if I had crossed over or not and Bryan McMillan, my supervisor, “built a new fence” and told me not to cross over that one… so I started “walking on his new fence” with my blogging instead of being submissive. That almost for certain pissed him and others off. That doesn’t really make sense to me with my world view. When I would tell one of our kids to clean their room and when they announced it was clean and I went to inspect found the room clean but the hallway three feet deep in their dirty clothes I couldn’t hold back my smirk–and I would require they help me put their dirty clothes in the laundry room. Then the next time I told them to clean their room I would make sure the requirement included getting all the dirty clothes all the way to the laundry room. I would be pleased that I had such a clever child, but then I’m not normal…

McMillan, Hevland, and others may have in fact “walked on the fence” in terms of Battelle policy during the termination procedure but unless that was due to an actionable item such as a race, gender, age, etc. and possibly gun ownership issue of some sort it just doesn’t matter in a legal sense. They could get away with it.

In regards to all the evidence from my web logs–such as indications they weren’t looking for information I blogged about work but instead about my political activism and that I was a firearms instructor–we explored that. All indications appear the investigation started for other reasons, invalid (some other day with the data to back it up–Newton was “walking a fence” in his testimony) but not legally actionable. The people that may have had a bias against my activism and gun activities apparently didn’t pass that bias on to the decision makers.

PNNL screwed up by not doing a good investigation and I got screwed, in part because I was in essence mocking them, but them being incompetent investigators isn’t actionable in a legal sense so I dropped the case.

Another way to look at it that is probably fair was this statement by someone familiar with nearly all the details but wishes to remain anonymous, “Joe, I see why they fired you now. You are so in control you are out of control. Until people get to know you scare them. They thought you were a loose cannon and were a risk.”

It took me a lot of time to understand what “You are so in control you are out of control” really meant. It means I parsed the rules very carefully. It was all very clear to me–simplifying some, there were four types of information, Classified, Official Use Only, Business Sensitive, and everything else which was Open. The first three were carefully defined which made Open well defined. Open stuff is subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests–which means anyone can get access if they ask for it. I was very much in control of what I said and chose my words carefully. But I said things in ways that made them more “interesting” than Battelle/PNNL was comfortable with. I was in control but appeared out of control.

There was, in essence, an unstated policy that they did not wish to honor FOIA. FOIA was a problem for them because it was so much easier to work on things that were in the open that they, and their customers preferred that operating environment. But even though it was technically open they preferred it remain “in the dark”. I honored the spirit of that but unless it were truly “not Open” I didn’t keep it as in the dark as “not Open” material were required to be kept. I think this pissed them off too–I was “Walking the Fence” again by not keeping FOIA-able material as dark as OUO material.

As I said here when I first found out about the investigation, my Push the Envelope Policy has it’s hazards.

As I talked to people about the results from yesterday I had one person tell me they couldn’t be like me but they were glad there were people like me out there. Extremists are usually right because they care about the issue and understand it. The moderates don’t care because they don’t know the issue. And if you are going to push the envelope you have to accept the risk and know that sometimes you are going to have to pay a price. You paid a heavy price. I hope it was worth it for you. I wouldn’t have been willing to pay that price.”

I don’t know the answer…I’m still thinking on it.