By JONATHAN SILVERSTEIN, ABCNews.com
Aug. 30) — “What I am going to tell you is going to seem preposterous and unbelievable.”
Those are a few of the first words of a video posted on YouTube by former Lockheed Martin engineer Michael De Kort, claiming that the defense contractor had built and the Coast Guard had accepted a number of boats that fall far short of government standards and leave our national security in question.
De Kort had tried going through the chain of command at Lockheed, and had contacted the government, the Coast Guard and various members of Congress, but no one seemed willing or able to help.
“YouTube was my last best shot — I never wanted to do this publicly,” he explained. “I had gone there to look at entertaining videos and saw that hundreds of thousands of people were visiting the site, and I thought that if there was something that was novel … maybe just the fact that I was doing it would be the story.”
Entertaining videos are what YouTube is known for — today the most-viewed video on the site is a clip from the 2006 Emmy awards, with more than 240,000 views.
And although De Kort’s video has been viewed only a little more than 8,000 times since he posted it on Aug. 3, his story has appeared in print, on radio and TV — further evidence that the Internet has given the average person a way to be heard.
In De Kort’s video, he makes scandalous accusations about Lockheed Martin’s failure to properly refit boats as part of the government’s Deepwater program, which works to update and lengthen the lives of ships already in the Coast Guard’s fleet.
In the video, he claims that the ships’ camera surveillance system, whose aim is to allow the ships to be monitored from shore and to prevent anyone from getting on one of the ships without being seen, had vast blind spots that the contractor was aware of.
He also claims that while the ships were to be fitted with technology that could withstand the elements, a little investigation showed that the equipment the contractor had ordered would not meet Coast Guard standards. De Kort said he was told to stop investigating the technology.
Finally, he argues that the communications system, which is supposed to be secured using shielded cable so no one can listen in or interfere with it, instead used unshielded cable. In some cases, he said, the contractor even replaced shielded cable already on the ships with unshielded cable.
Furthermore, De Kort told ABCNews.com that the vendor for the radios Lockheed Martin planned to use had told him they didn’t work outside.
“These are Coast Guard guys who go out in bad weather all the time,” he said. “I told them they can’t have a boat where the primary means of communication doesn’t work in the rain.”
De Kort said all these issues were brought to the attention of his bosses at Lockheed Martin, but that his pleas fell on deaf ears.
“The situation needs to be dealt with,” he said. “These things were not mistakes. They were done on purpose — not maliciously but for several reasons. We were over budget and the mistakes we were making were so glaring, I don’t think they wanted anyone to know.”
A Coast Guard representative said it was cooperating with a Department of Homeland Security investigation.
“He hasn’t worked for the program since the spring of 2005, and some program personnel have been in contact with him … and obviously, he hasn’t gotten the answer he’s looking for, whatever that is,” said Mary Elder, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard. “But I assure you, the Coast Guard would not operate its vessels in an unsafe manner.”
Investigation or Coverup?
De Kort takes full credit for a Department of Homeland Security investigation that’s been looking into the allegations since before he posted his video.
But he said he’s been told by people at Homeland Security that the investigation has been regularly impeded by a lack of cooperation on the part of the Coast Guard.
Yet Elder maintains that the Coast Guard has provided the DHS inspector general’s office with all the requested documentation and necessary access.
“The Deepwater office of the Coast Guard has cooperated fully with the office of the inspector general and has been working with them on this issue since February, and … we have provided them with over 100 different documents and access to various personnel and provided briefings to them to make sure that they have the information they need to complete the investigation,” she explained.
Both the Coast Guard and Lockheed Martin maintain they have conducted internal investigations into De Kort’s allegations, in addition to the ongoing Homeland Security investigation.
“Lockheed Martin has thoroughly investigated these allegations on several occasions and found them to be without merit,” read a statement from Lockheed Martin. “In addition, Lockheed Martin has determined that the concerns do not pose safety or security issues.”
“Unfortunately, when there are abuses, it can be awfully difficult for someone to penetrate the corporate walls and the government walls that surround them.”
De Kort acknowledges that his YouTube video was just a way to get his story out and into the eyes and ears of the public.
Because the Internet allows people the opportunity and, in some cases, the anonymity to say and do whatever they want, that freedom to be heard can be a double-edged sword.
But Noah Shachtman, editor in chief of DefenseTech.org, which monitors military happenings both at home and abroad, said it’s necessary to ensure the public’s ability to blow the whistle.
“I think it’s never been easier for people to call BS on the shenanigans of their employers or their government,” said Shachtman. “Whether it’s soldiers from Abu Graib slipping out pictures and getting them to the press, or whether we’re talking about bloggers reporting from the front lines. Digital media has really made it incredibly easy for people who want to get their message out and bring questionable practices to light.”
Shachtman said there are many examples of these kinds of defense contract scandals, though he said he’s unsure if this is one of those cases. He said the promise of digital media is fulfilled when people like Michael De Kort can be heard.
“There are plenty of honest people working at the nation’s defense contractors, and there are a lot of very hardworking, very smart people,” Shactman said. “Unfortunately, when there are abuses, it can be awfully difficult for someone to penetrate the corporate walls and the government walls that surround them.”
Tell that to Michael De Kort — if you can catch him in between interviews.
“They [the people] need to know the level of incompetence and the decisions that were being made,” De Kort said. “Your ethics — especially after 9/11 — cannot be decisions of convenience — they can’t be decisions of economics.”