- It had been the worst of blind dates; the no-show. Eventually,
just before 2am, Tommy Hook conceded defeat and slunk away from the gaudy
strip bar. As he traipsed across the neon-bathed parking lot of Cheeks
nightclub, he would have wondered what became of his non-committal partner.
- Hours earlier Hook, 52, had received a call from a fellow
employee at the Los Alamos National Laboratory imploring him to head to
the Santa Fe nightspot and hover by the bar. An excited, hushed voice had
promised to corroborate Hook's explosive findings into massive financial
irregularities at the birthplace of the nuclear bomb and proposed site
for the Bush administration's new generation of atomic weapons.
- Instead it is the brutal events that followed Hook's
short walk that have plunged the top secret home of the US weapons project
into fresh controversy.
- The attack was ferocious; a group of up to six men stamped
on the head of Hook, a former internal auditor at Los Alamos, with such
intensity that footprint marks were still visible on his swollen face days
later. A witness claimed that without the intervention of the club's bouncer,
Hook would have been murdered. His wife Susan later alleged that the assailants
told her husband during the beating that 'if you know what's good for you,
you'll keep your mouth shut'.
- The attack last week came 48 hours before US government
investigators were scheduled to arrive at Hook's home and scrutinise audits
detailing financial irregularities amounting to millions of taxpayer dollars
at the New Texas laboratory. Now he has been silenced.
- His shattered jaw remained wired shut throughout his
30th wedding anniversary on Friday. The incident at Cheeks has reopened
a trail of unsolved murders, harassment and ongoing death threats that
continues to plague America's controversial nuclear weapons programme.
- The Observer has tracked down former whistleblowers and
US congressional investigators who claim that people are risking serious
harm by exposing flaws in the US atomic project at a time when the Bush
administration is intent on resuming nuclear weapons production for the
first time in 15 years. The attack has even wider ramifications, coinciding
with new evidence revealing Britain's close involvement with the Los Alamos
- Peter Stockton spent last Thursday scrutinising the Cheeks
car park for clues. Claims of a row over a parking accident and an altercation
at the bar were soon dismissed. Neither Hook's wallet nor his red Subaru
sedan was stolen. Stockton, a former congressional investigator, was deeply
troubled by the similarities of the Hook beating and a case that has haunted
him for almost 30 years.
- In 1974, he investigated the death of Karen Silkwood,
the nuclear company employee who died in an unexplained one-car crash many
suspect was deliberately caused by her employers. Having spent months gathering
evidence of corruption and contamination at the Kerr McGee site, Silkwood
drove to meet a New York Times journalist with the proof. She never arrived.
Subsequent investigations found that tracks were consistent with her car
being forced off the road. The evidence that Silkwood was carrying with
her has never been found. Her story became a Hollywood movie
- Hook too, was about to expose allegations of misconduct
against the powerful nuclear lobby. He had been scheduled to testify before
the House Energy and Commerce Committee this month on his allegations.
A first meeting with government investigators was arranged for last Wednesday.
- Stockton said that the public's largely favourable reaction
to the recent unveiling of Deep Throat's identity in the Watergate affair
was unusual. 'Whistleblowers have been harassed or fired. It is still a
dangerous game, particularly in the nuclear sector', he told The Observer.
- Greg Mellor, who has been leading the Los Alamos Study
Group for 13 years, has observed the mood in the remote outpost turning
increasingly belligerent against those prepared to speak out about goings-on
at the laboratory. 'A lot of people have been threatened, including myself,'
he said. 'Los Alamos used to be full of liberal scientists, it was predominantly
democratic with a lot of partying. Now it is very conservative. People
feel that if you take a swipe at the labs you are taking a swipe at them.'
- One Los Alamos employee created a political storm recently
after being sacked for exposing large-scale theft at the lab. That followed
the unsolved death in 1999 of Lee Scott Hall who had uncovered a serious
flaw in the troubled £700m weapons testing programme at the Lawrence
Livermore laboratories, close ally of its Los Alamos counterpart. The 54-year-old
had been stabbed 10 times in his bedroom. No motive was established for
the murder nor was anything stolen from his home. No one was ever arrested.
- This weekend allies of Hook will continue wondering how
his attackers remain at large. However, no allegations have been forwarded
that anyone connected with the laboratory or the US nuclear programme ordered
a hit on Hook. A spokesman for the lab denounced the beating as 'senseless
- Whoever was responsible, indications suggest that Hook
remains intent on testifying. His evidence threatens not only to embarrass
the White House, but ultimately Whitehall as well.
- Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited