Ex-CIA staffer alleges agency coverup in toxin exposure case
Friday, February 11, 2011; 12:00 AM
A former CIA security officer is alleging that the agency is unjustifiably invoking a "state secrets" claim to cover up evidence that he and his family suffered illnesses as a result of exposure to environmental contamination at an agency facility.
Kevin Shipp, 55, a counterterrorism consultant now employed by a firm with government contracts, said that the agency also has sought to prevent him from publicizing his ordeal by heavily redacting the manuscript he hopes to publish. The book describes what the family experienced during and after their exposure: illness, alcoholism, marital discord, and a campaign of harassment and surveillance that Shipp says was carried out by the CIA.
The facility where the Shipps lived is in the southwestern United States and has served as a weapons depot and disposal site. The Washington Post has agreed to the agency's request not to name the facility or describe its location more precisely.
In interviews, Shipp said he was motivated to speak out, possibly in violation of a judge's orders not to discuss the case, because he believes the CIA is hiding misdeeds. In 2003 the government agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Shipp, but the CIA later backed out of the deal.
In February 2004 U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia granted the agency's request to dismiss the matter as a state secret, a decision that effectively made permanent a gag order he had imposed two years earlier.
"This is about the Constitution and their grave violation of it," said Shipp, who won several commendations for his work over a 17-year career. "We suffered horribly. People need to know what they did."
The CIA declined to discuss the case. "Separate and apart from any specific instance," CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said by e-mail, "the CIA takes the health and welfare of its employees very seriously."
A family physician said the Shipps were harmed.
"The family greatly suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, acute situational adjustment reaction and insomnia relating to their experiences in the past," Steve W. von Elten of Warrenton wrote in a 2003 evaluation. "They had not exhibited these tendencies, from my experience, from first establishing [them] as patients in this practice in 1993."
Shipp and his wife, Lorena, and their two sons and a daughter moved to the secret facility in May 1999 for his agency assignment as a security officer.
Within several weeks of moving into their double-wide trailer, they say they began experiencing health problems, including bloody noses, rashes, nausea and abdominal pain. Lorena suffered from "bleeding gums . . . mysterious bruises all over my body . . . continual sinus infections" and headaches "so painful I could not get out of bed," she said in an interview.
Shipp discovered small spots of black and greenish mold hidden in the trailer's nooks and crannies. He said he learned they were capable of generating toxins that produce some of the symptoms he was seeing in his family.