TO FIMBERG, FROM THE SKY, THE ROCKY FLATS WEAPONS PLANT--bounded by state highways, a series of holding ponds and a high chain-link fence--resembled nothing so much as an aging industrial foundry. It was early morning on Dec. 9, six weeks after Norton flashed the green light. Fimberg was sitting next to Lipsky in the FBI's eight-seat prop plane, surrounded by a mess of infrared surveillance equipment, looking down at his target.
This is sort of strange, he thought. They were on a spy mission, not unlike Cold War U-2 pilots flying high over the Soviet Union. Except they were in Colorado, flying over a U.S. government facility.
Studying a monitor connected to the infrared cameras, Fimberg could see white plumes rising from a smokestack and white streams leading toward a body of water. On an infrared image, white signifies a hot spot--thermal activity. An EPA agent on board nudged Fimberg and Lipsky, pointing to the monitor. "Take a look at that," he said.
Late that night, and again on two more evenings in mid-December, the FBI plane overflew Rocky Flats. Then, in early January, EPA experts in Las Vegas delivered their analyses.
The smokestack plume came from the Building 771 incinerator, one infrared expert said. Even though it was supposedly shut down, it was "thermally active" late on the nights of Dec. 9, 10 and 15. So was a holding pond that on paper had been closed two years before because of leaks. A hot stream of wastes was also flowing from the sewage-treatment plant to Woman Creek, an illegal direct discharge. Samples from one such direct discharge strongly suggested that "medical waste" was coming from some sort of "research laboratory" dabbling in "experimental" chemicals.
Fimberg was excited. Amid the tangle of mind-numbing RCRA regulations, here, he thought, might be some pretty sexy smoking guns: a clandestine midnight incinerator burn, direct toxic discharges into public water supplies, an exotic lab, concealment. White-collar environmental crimes didn't usually provide anything nearly as dramatic as the AK-47s and sacks of cocaine shown off by criminal prosecutors before crowded press conferences. But this one might.
Fimberg began regularly flying to Washington to brief various Justice Department supervisors. Up the department's ladder he climbed, repeating his dog-and-pony show. Each time he'd first draw skepticism, if not disbelief. Oh, come on, you're not serious, we're not going to do Rocky Flats, they'd say. Each time Fimberg would bring them around.
On Jan. 10, Don Carr, the acting head of the Environment and Natural Resources Division, finally gave conceptual approval for a raid of Rocky Flats. In March, Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh signed off. In early June, Thornburgh, Norton, FBI Director William S. Sessions, EPA administrator William K. Reilly and Adm. James D. Watkins, secretary of the Department of Energy, signed a memo of understanding about what was to happen. At 9 a.m. on June 6, the raid began.
Jon Lipsky and Bill Smith led a small team through the main entrance on State Highway 93. Ostensibly, they were on their way to a prearranged meeting with Rocky Flats officials to talk about recent threats from the environmental group Earth First! But once in the meeting room, they revealed the true reason for their visit and slapped copies of the search warrant into the startled hands of DOE and Rockwell officials.
"You can't be serious," stuttered Dominic Sanchini, Rockwell's manager at Rocky Flats.
"We are serious," replied FBI Special Agent Thomas J. Coyle.
Then 62, Sanchini was a balding, jowly Rockwell veteran with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, a law degree and a background in the development of rocket engines. As the search unfolded, Sanchini told the agents he'd seen notices of noncompliance from various regulatory agencies, but they were always minor and immediately corrected. Problems got solved if DOE wanted to pay for them.
On the fourth day of the search, according to FBI reports, Agent Edward Sutcliff, looking into a cabinet along the west wall of the manager's office, came upon a large box of steno pads. Sanchini said those were diaries he had kept while working for NASA. He was planning to write a book.
Sutcliff began searching an adjoining middle cabinet. That cabinet has stuff from my old job, Sanchini said. Just as the Rocky Flats manager mouthed those words, Sutcliff discovered in the cabinet, under a foot-high stack of documents, another pile of steno pads. The FBI agent began leafing through the pages. They appeared to be Sanchini's diary of events at Rocky Flats.
"Environment becoming a big deal. The EPA can destroy us," read one entry from July 1, 1986. "Don't tell press. . . . Tie mind, mouth and asshole together," read another, referring to a discovery of ground-water contamination. "DOE doesn't follow the law," read an entry from May 6, 1987.