Alyeska Head Regrets Whistleblower Probe, But Says it Was Legal
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The head of the Trans-Alaska pipeline says he regrets that the organization undertook an investigation of whistleblowers leaking sensitive documents and won’t do it again.
But James Hermiller, president of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., and the security company it hired to conduct the probe denied they had done anything illegal.
″Private investigations conducted by companies involving third parties, particularly if those third parties are critics, just don’t work,″ Hermiller told a House committee chairman who was using the probe’s chief target as a source. ″The returns are not worth the damage.″
Hermiller offered that assessment Tuesday during the second day of hearings by the Interior Committee into what Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., has called possible ″criminal activities″ by Alyeska and its security contractor, the Wackenhut Corp. of Coral Gables, Fla.
The pipeline’s owners testified today they never authorized the investigation and ordered it shut down as soon as they learned of it.
″The Wackenhut investigation relied on an investigative approach that, however legal and widely practiced, was inconsistent with standards that I consider to be appropriate,″ said William Rusnack, chairman of the pipeline’s seven-member ownership committee.
Rusnack, who also is president of ARCO’s transportation subsidiary, said he and the other two majority owners of the pipeline, Exxon and British Petroleum, did not learn of the investigation until Sept. 25, 1990, seven months after Alyeska officials ordered it.
″While we were told that what was done was legal, I did not think that the investigation was an acceptable course of action of Alyeska to pursue,″ said Darrell G. Warner, Exxon’s representative as president of its pipeline subsidiary.
Both Hermiller and Wackenhut Chairman George Wackenhut denied that Miller, whose named surfaced repeatedly during videotaped and tape-recorded surveillance as part of the sting, was ever one of its targets.
″It was never my intention to interfere in any manner with the workings of this committee, with its chairman, or with any other committee or member of Congress,″ Hermiller said.
They also denied any illegality in the tactics used by Wackenhut during its seven-month 1990 surveillance of Charles Hamel, a former oil broker who bragged about forwarding confidential Alyeska documents to Miller, government agencies, environmental groups and the press.
Those tactics included starting a phony environmental group in an effort to persuade Hamel to reveal his sources and obtain software programs that investigators believed he was using to store the stolen documents.
Wackenhut investigators, posing as environmental researchers, also surreptitiously tape-recorded and videotaped conversations with Hamel, obtained his long-distance telephone records, went through his trash and removed letters and documents from his home.
″Whatever else may be said about the investigation, it confirmed the seriousness of the problem,″ Hermiller testified. ″Mr. Hamel, in fact, had in his possession hundreds of pages of stolen or leaked Alyeska documents, including highly confidential legal documents.″
Miller was dubious. Throughout the day he and other committee members cited documents subpoenaed from Alyeska and Wackenhut to claim the string also was aimed at chilling the committee’s oversight of the pipeline and the Alaska activities of the seven oil companies who own it.
The 800-mile pipeline - jointly owned by Exxon, ARCO, British Petroleum and three other oil companies - transports from Alaska’s North Slope to the port of Valdez about 1.8 millions of oil daily - one-fourth of domestic U.S. production.
In one document, Jonathan Goodman, a Miami attorney hired by Alyeska and Wackenhut to advise on the legality of the sting’s tactics, hand-scribbled during a May 1990 meeting: ″best goal - getting Miller and Hamel indicted for encouraging theft of property.″
In another, an ARCO attorney’s notes of a September 1990 meeting of the pipeline’s owners, was scribbled: ″... Aly (Alyeska) felt it had done well and really exposed some Hamil-Petrich conspiracy and gross motives.″
Miller said the reference ″is to the man on my right″ - Jeffrey P. Petrich, chief counsel of the Interior Committee’s offshore resources subcommittee that Miller also chairs.
″You sat here and suggested all afternoon that a firewall was developed between the investigation and the committee,″ Miller said. ″Maybe they just wrote my name down because it came to their heads, but I don’t think so.″