A Nerd’s Last Word by Michael Bosley
Since being detained by MoD police at Edinburgh airport last month, William McNeilly, the whistle-blower at the centre of an 18 page dossier alleging lapses in Trident’s nuclear submarine program has been discharged from Naval duty and is now a civilian. He has since thanked his supporters in a report posted to Scribd.com titled The Art of War in which he directly quotes the book by Sun Tzu as well as other sources including the Daily Mail, the BBC and‚ his gran.
In the shadow of the incredibly public Edward Snowden and Julian Assange whistle-blower cases, there is an increasingly receptive audience willing to suck up any accusation from whistle-blowers, particularly within the oft shady world of government and defence.
Espionage and national secrets have become sexy business, not least since the release of the big screen adaptation The Fifth Estate, projecting the story of Julian Assange into the mainstream conscience with a little help from old funny face himself, Benedict Cumberbatch. Despite looking nothing like Assange and possessing the dulcet tones of a haunted shed, Cumberbatch et al have managed to define a post-9/11 generation where surveillance and invasion of privacy from our own government have become the biggest threat since good old fashioned¬†terrorism.
As we’ve adjusted our focus of paranoia over the last ten years away from those who are trying to blow us into little bite size chunks and instead to those who supposedly seek to protect us, it‚Äôs no wonder that Trident has become such a focus for discussion, especially during the Scotland referendum where it was debated whether Trident should be replaced or upgraded (you know, just in case an unruly country needed deleting from the face of the earth) or stripped down into harmless souvenir paperweights and saving the taxpayer a cool ¬£500 million year.
The shocking revelation then that the Trident program is riddled with security flaws and lax procedures that could potentially be exploited by determined terrorists should prick up the nations collective ears. However, a quick skim of the ‚Äòdossier‚Äô released by McNeilly raises a number of questions before you‚Äôve even had a chance to comprehend the potential threat to national security.
How do I find anything? Firstly, the whole document lacks any kind of formal structure; no bullet pointed lists, summaries or references, meaning trying to find a particular piece of information to highlight is like trying to find, well,¬†a needle in a Vanguard-class submarine. McNeilly flitters between various rambling, anecdotal examples of what he believes to be serious breaches of conduct with little regard for chronology; leaving you unsure what day, month or year any of these events actually took place.
Have you heard of spellchecker? It‚Äôs hard to believe McNeilly took a year to write this. Reading through the first few paragraphs is headache inducing and requires a break or a re-read every few sentences to fully absorb the meandering narrative and poor grammar.
’This is document will enlighten you‚’ begins the first confusing sentence, before a plethora of oxford commas, misappropriated uses of the words ‚‘were’, ‚‘we’re’‚ ‘their’, and ‘there’ and redundant hyperbole are scattered throughout with deft efficiency.
It may seem petty, but readability and accuracy are surely fundamental to a dossier pertaining to contain specific breaches and cover-ups, especially if it intends to carry any credence whatsoever.
Have you been reading a few too many spy novels? McNeilly goes into a lot of unnecessary descriptive detail in his report in order to set some kind of scene with the header itself reading like a blurb from a book: ’This is bigger than me, it’s bigger than all of us. We are so close to a nuclear disaster it is shocking, and yet everybody is accepting the risk to the public.’
You can almost imagine the voice over actor of many a thriller movie trailer, Dan LaFontaine narrating many of the lines in this report. At various points McNeilly goes to great lengths to applaud his own achievements in attaining the information (taking photos on his phone) and also his supposed gift of deception and people skills to extract information from colleagues and superiors. In one bizarre extract, McNeilly expresses his concerns at having been dubbed the rather clunky nickname of ‘Terrorist Robot’ because of his Irish accent and his studious nature.
After deciding to distance himself from these friends for fear of raising suspicions, he goes on to say: ”I needed to create distance between them, and create a knew persona (sic); I aimed for mixture of dumbness and eagerness to learn for simple curios reasons.”
Where’s the proof?
McNeilly recalls a number of anecdotal examples of supposed breaches and malpractice. Unfortunately most seem to be from passing conversations and comments from other colleagues; how much of this is exaggeration or boasting is unclear. Many of the accusations simply seem to be McNeilly himself jumping to his own conclusions as to what he believes constitutes a breach of practice. Speaking about red tags he had observed on some of the equipment: ”I highly suspected a lot of them were for defect rectification, rather than standard maintenance Tagouts” ‚possibly, or possibly not.
Helpfully recommending the best way to get information on past submarine disasters he states: ”You can find some of the information online but most of it is covered up‚” I’ôm sure it is William. And I’m sure a thorough report such as yours will list some examples of these submarine disasters that were covered up. But alas, I see not a single one.
Though there may be some basis within McNeilly’s report for an inspection and review of the Trident Program procedures - if only to disprove the submariner’s accusations and allay any public fears, the MOD have understandably discredited the report as ‘subjective and unsubstantiated’.
It is worth noting also that McNeilly was a naval recruit with only three months experience on the Trident program; neither a veteran nor a fully-fledged submariner on the Trident program, so lacked the training, experience and full understanding of the procedures involved.
What McNeilly does more than anything is undermine the important role that whistleblowers play in uncovering legitimate flaws and misconduct within otherwise impenetrable operations and organisations.
If what McNeilly claims are indeed serious breaches of conduct within a program as important as Trident, his responsibility should be to have presented his findings with the gravitas it deserved; including third-party witnesses, hard video or photographic evidence and above all, presenting it in such a way as to make it at least remotely presentable and readable without needing a stack of Ibuprofen to kill the grammar headaches. ”I watched a lot of Columbo as a kid‚”- admits McNeilly.
And this is probably very telling from his approach to his writing. This isn’t a report, it’s a story woven by Willam McNeilly starring William McNeilly as a wannabe sleuth at the centre of his own world - chasing shadows and aggrandized ideals of his role as a selfless hero of ‘the people’.