by DAVID AXE
For a decade, Franz Gayl has advocated for some of the most important U.S. military technologies. As a science adviser to the Marine Corps, Gayl lobbied for the Pentagon to purchase nonlethal lasers, bomb-resistant trucks and surveillance drones and to develop concepts for transporting troops through space. He also proposed a radical approach to ending this year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
When the military bureaucracy balked, on cost grounds or for its own internal reasons, Gayl just argued more forcefully. He made a lot of enemies that way. Finally, after years of mounting tension, Gayl’s bosses have found a way to destroy his career. Citing a 2008 incident in which Gayl used a USB device with a classified computer, in violation of regulations, the Marines have stripped Gayl of his security clearance and placed him on leave — the first steps toward termination. While the offense is real, the punishment is clearly retaliation for Gayl’s years of unwavering advocacy.
The Washington Post broke the story of Gayl’s firing last week. Within a day, watchdog groups were calling for whistleblower protection for Gayl. For now, he remains in a sort of legal limbo, neither fully employed nor unemployed, as he awaits the fallout from the current controversy. I spoke to Gayl via email.
Q: What do you think sparked the firing attempt?
A: I suspect Gen. [James] Conway [the former Commandant of the Marine Corps] wanted to finish things up on his watch so that new CMC could wash his hands of me early. [The] 4 October stripping of clearances, placement on administrative leave, and banning from Pentagon occurred on the very morning that [new CMC Gen. James] Amos was confirmed in the Senate vote as CMC. The coincidence/timing was compelling.
Q: Have you appealed the firing?
A: I have drafted an affidavit with [the nonprofit protection group] GAP, but as of yet have been provided no formal appeal route. After all, I am still being paid while on administrative leave.
Q: I thought you had protectors in the Pentagon. Where are they now?
A: For a long time, I thought so too, but now I see if they exist at all they will not speak out on this issue.
Q: What does the firing say about the Marine Corps and the Pentagon in general?
A: If you want to survive, never suggest that a senior Marine or Marines may have contributed to harming their own Marines through their support establishment oversight or mismanagement. As for the Pentagon? Maybe there is hope — that is, if SECDEF [Robert Gates] holds folks accountable for the unnecessary deaths and maiming of Marines in Iraq due to the USMC MRAP [bomb-resistant vehicle] debacle.
Q: If the firing proceeds, what will you do next?
A: I will accelerate my job search. I am slotted to attend the Singularity University Graduate Studies Program (GSP-11) next summer. I hope it all works out so that I can start a new life doing something else.
Q: If the firing does not go through, will it still be possible for you to work in the military, what with the apparent hostility?
A: I would like to do a Congressional Fellowship via DoD (USMC) for two years. I think I can make a contribution doing something like that.