A top security official at the North Anna nuclear plant infiltrated antinuclear groups in Virginia earlier this year at a time when the organizations were planning a civil disobedience style protest at the plant.
Assuming a false last name and occupation, Charles Pickett, senior security supervisor at the plant for Stone & Webster Engineering Corp., attended at least three strategy sessions of the Piedmont Alliance for Safe Energy of Charlottesville and the Virginia Sunshine Alliance of Richmond during April and May.
Piedmont Alliance members say Pickett participated in discussions of tactics to be used during and after the protest, which took place June 3 and at which 120 persons were arrested. He also sat in on a session in which a member reported on negotiations for the protest between the antinuclear organizations, law enforcement officials and representatives of Virginia Electric and Power Co., owner and operator of the plant.
Alliance members say they were tipped off to Pickett by a plant worker who said the security supervisor boasted of infiltrating the group. They confronted Pickett at a June 2 rally in Louisa County, where he admitted he worked for Stone & Webster but denied he was a spy.
In a brief telephone interview late last week, Pickett said he had "a personal basis" for attending the meetings but refused further comment.
Spokesmen for Vepco and for the Boston-based Stone & Webster, which has contracted with Vepco to design and build the still uncompleted North Anna plant, denied they directed Pickett to spy or gather information on the antinuclear groups.
The North Anna incident comes at a time when civil liberties groups say they are concerned about an increasing number of cases of utilities and law enforcement agencies spying on antinuclear activists.
"We're finding a tremendous increase in the use of security and undercover techniques," said John Shattuck, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"While this may seem to be a small incident, the facts aren't clear and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was part of a larger security operation that Vepco had put into effect."
The short, strange career of Charles Pickett, antinuclear activist, began last February when the Piedmont Alliance members received a letter signed by "Charles Martin," expressing interest in civil disobedience.
Alliance members recall "Martin" first started coming to the group's bi-weekly meetings in Charlottesville sometime in April. He stood out, they said, because he had relatively short hair and wore dark glasses, even indoors.
"He looked like a redneck lost among a bunch of hippies," said Woody Greenberg, a reporter for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, who met "Martin" at the June rally. "He wore reflector-type shades - and you just don't see those at most protest rallies."
The antinuclear activists said "Martin" did little talking at the meetings, which were devoted to preparing for the June 3 protest at the plant. But he did describe experiences he claimed to have had a year earlier at the large-scale protests at the Seabrook nuclear plant site in New Hampshire. Those protests served as both model and inspiration for the Virginia demonstrators.
Alliance member Donal Day, a University of Virginia researcher, recalls that "Martin" suggested those arrested not provoke authorities bk refusing to accept bail.
"He warned us that the judge would probably hand out more severe sentences if we practiced 'bail solidarity' and overcrowded the jail," said Day. In effect he was making it easier on the officials."
At one of the meetings, Richard Dulee, a Virginia graduate student who is the group's treasurer, recalled making a lengthy report on the negotiations he and representatives of others antinuclear groups were having with Vepco the state police and law enforcement officials in Louisa County, where the North anna plant is located.
"I gave people my impressions of how the negotiations were going and what we should do," said Dulee. "It was information that could have been useful to Vepco."
"Martin" volunteered to attend a May meeting in Richmond of the Virginia Sunshine Alliance, a coalition group, at which final plans for the protest were set.
He accompanied James Sprinkle, a Madison, Va. construction worker, to the meeting. Sprinkle, who said he was suspicious of "Martin" because of his appearance, recalled that "Martin" told him he was a self-employed landscaper and again recounted his experiences at Seabrook on the way to the meeting.
But when they got to Richmond, Sprinkle said, "Martin" told him he felt sick and waited outside in the car.
"I got really paranoid that he was contacting Vepco while we were in there,"said Sprinkle. "But I felt we had nothing to hide from him.So when he kept asking me questions on the way home about what we'd discsussed in there, I told him exactly what we'd talked about."
Soon afterward, Day said he heard from a friend at North Anna that someone there was bragging about attending Piedmont Alliance meetings. After some investigating Day discovered that it was Pickett who was doing the boasting.
Dulee then checked with directory assistance and found Pickett's address in Montpelier, Va., was the same as that of "Charles Martin." Piedmont Alliance members said that when they confronted "Martin" at the June 2 rally, he admitted his real name and that he worked for Stone & Webster. Pickett then told the antinuclear activists that he had used the alias to protect his job.
"That didn't add up," said Day. "If he was so concerned about his job, then why was he bragging around the plant about what he'd done?"
Day and others told Pickett not to show up again at antinuclear meetings. None of the activists say they have seen him since the rally.
"He was very nervous that last day," said Sprinkle. "He knew he'd been caught on our ground and I think he thought we'd come over to stomp him out, even though we're nonviolent."
Alliance members, who insist all of their meetings and actions are public, say they would have welcomed Pickett's participation of he had been open about who he was and shat he wanted.
"His infiltrating us was kind of silly because there's nothing to infiltrate," said Sprinkle. "I don't think he was trying to instigate anything but I do think he was trying to gather information on us and he wasn't very good at it."
Pickett, who told the activists his fob involves doing background checks on prospective Stone & Webster employes, would only say last week that "anything that happened that was between me and whoever was on a personal basis."
Stone & Webster spolesman Martin Reynolds said: "The basic situation is that nobody at the company knew anything about this. He went to these meetings on his own time as a private citizen and did not report back to the company." Reynolds added that the company is not contemplating taking any action against Pickett.
Vepco spokesman Douglas Cochran said: "We have nothing to do with Mr. Pickett's activities on or off the job. We are not a police agency and e do not gather information on citizens or groups.