For Robert W. Jackson, 26, the Navy hasn’t just been a job. It’s been an adventure, but not the kind promised by the recruiting posters. Last month he watched from the San Diego shoreline as his ship, the giant aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (shown right), left port on a six-month mission. Jackson had been granted shore leave and a transfer a few days earlier, after telling Navy investigators and his congressman that he feared fellow crew members would make good on their threats to kill him. A petty officer second class, Jackson has become a first-class whistle-blower whose allegations of fraud and waste threaten to torpedo the powerful Navy bureaucracy. “The attitude on that ship is, ‘It’s only the taxpayers’ money,’ ” he says. “We’ve all been ripped off.”
When he reported to the Kitty Hawk’s antisubmarine warfare division in September 1983, Jackson recalls, “They said, ‘Here, you’re the bookkeeper; here are all the books.’ ” He had served an earlier three-year hitch (1977-80) and decided to re-enlist after his marriage and finances fell apart. As a civilian he had worked for insurance companies, acquiring bookkeeping skills the Navy valued.
After several months of intense study, Jackson had the Kitty Hawk’s arcane bookkeeping system fully deciphered. Having grown up as one of eight children in a family of modest means, he was outraged by the free-spending of budgeted funds. He developed a strict bookkeeping system then used it to save, he claims, “thousands of dollars.”
His work did not go unnoticed. In his evaluation for June to December 1984, Jackson was given a 4.0 rating, the Navy’s highest mark. “Petty Officer Jackson’s high levels of initiative and personal performance,” the report stated, “far exceed those expected of a junior petty officer.” He was given increasing accounting responsibilities until, he says, by late December 1984, he was overseeing more than 250 bookkeepers.
Jackson began helping them with their work. As the men grew to trust him, he says, “They started telling me things.” Gradually, says Jackson, he realized that the carrier’s supply system was riddled with fraud, corruption, theft and waste, which were covered up by forged records and perfunctory investigations. The chain of command did not respond to his repeated requests for corrective action, Jackson charges.
He learned, for instance, that the engineering department had exceeded its budget by over 66 percent in a single quarter. In January 1985 he reported that he’d found a total of $2.4 million in expenditures that had not been entered on the ship’s books, but no action was taken.
According to some of the 100 or so informants Jackson claims to have cultivated, Kitty Hawk sailors were able illegally to requisition 31 nine-pound silver bars, worth about $535 each. The scam came to light, says Jackson, only when a sailor was caught trying to trade one bar for drugs in a private deal.
A great deal of what was logged on the books either didn’t stay aboard very long or never arrived. Jackson says he and his colleagues were routinely ordered to fill out “survey forms” affirming that equipment had been lost or damaged without determining what had actually become of it. In some cases, Jackson says, the items had been deep-sixed in Kitty Hawk’s Pacific cruising grounds. If an officer wanted a new desk, he’d simply heave his old one into the sea. If a sailor didn’t feel like polishing an $85 fire nozzle, he’d drop it into the drink.
Some equipment may have been smuggled off the Kitty Hawk to supply the military needs of enemies. Jackson says he found survey forms that may explain how nearly $2 million in missing aircraft parts got that way. Last month seven people, including a supply specialist on the Kitty Hawk, were indicted in San Diego on charges of stealing matériel, including Phoenix missile components and critical parts for F-14 fighter jets, and smuggling it to Iran.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t stomach it anymore,” Jackson says. Early this year he began squirreling away documentary evidence of improprieties and removing it from the ship, 15,000 pieces in all. Finally, in June, he went to the Naval Investigative Service, dropped a stack of evidence on a desk and said, “Somebody’s going to prison on this one.”
As it turns out, Jackson now fears, that somebody could be himself. Navy officials have suggested that his evidence may constitute stolen government property. Commander Tom Jurkowsky, spokesman for the Pacific Fleet Naval Air Force, notes that Jackson “is not really an auditor…. He is not an accountant in the Navy sense…. He’s not even trained as a supply clerk.” The Navy will make no comment on Jackson’s allegations, said Jurkowsky, but is investigating. Jackson complains that the NIS has “lost evidence, exposed informants and begun a cover-up.” On June 12 he voiced his concern to an investigator. “I said, ‘You’re not going to send me on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean after you tell the commander I’ve blown the whistle, ’cause I’m going to wind up dead.’ ” Fearing violence or official reprisals, he retained two civilian lawyers and sought the help of Rep. Jim Bates (D.-Calif.) in obtaining a transfer to the safety of San Diego’s Miramar Naval Air Station.
The San Diego Union reported that some crew members described him as “an embittered and ‘evangelistic’ troublemaker who greeted [them] with the sign of the cross.” Jackson is proud to describe himself as “a Christian,” attributing the strength that enables him to take on the Navy to his faith in God and his love for his country.
Late last month the Navy announced that it could not account for about $14 million worth of Kitty Ha wk supplies.