Why Another Blog?

I've decided to set up another blog, (my other one is called Writer's Musings), because there are some topics just too weighty for that blog.

So here it is. In this space I'll explore more serious issues in more detail. I do not expect visitors to agree with me in all cases.
In this forum feel free to take off the gloves, grab a handful of mud and fight for what you believe in.

Simple rules, rather like cage-fighting in the blogosphere:
No direct name calling. No excessive profanity. No whining when smacked in the face with mud.
Sling inuendo. Feel free to ask leading questions even if in a snide tone.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Debunking a Fraud

Over on the blog, Principled Stand, I’ve been having a discussion about Depleted Uranium (DU). You can read the discussion yourself, but an interesting point popped up in the course of the discussion. A key “witness for the prosecution”, Douglas L. Rokke, Ph.D. turned out to be a fraud.

Why is this so? The Internet, it seems is a great place where one may find tons of good information and excellent resources. The Internet, it seems is a cesspool where one may find tons of credible-sounding rubbish and inaccurate resources. In other words, it can be a two-edged sword if one is not careful about vetting one’s sources. Dr. Rokke is an excellent case in point.

There are three other sources that blog owner “Doug” cites who are also not what they claim, but rather make this post a complete book I’ll simply make it a chapter and show why Dr. Rokke is a fraud and not to be believed. Use this as a case study in how to get led astray using what appear to be credible Internet sources.

In reading the course of the discussion on Principled Stand, it should be noted that I was skeptical of Dr. Rokke from the beginning, but then, I have first-hand knowledge that “opened the door” to my skepticism. Perhaps one without such knowledge would not be as skeptical, as seems to be the case when one peruses the many web sites that quote the esteemed doctor. If one does an Internet search using the words “depleted uranium”, references to Dr. Rokke will appear near the very top or at the top of the search results regardless of which search engine used. In fact, it is very difficult to find any other person so prominently named. At first glance, such result seems reasonable because the first claim that pops out is “the U.S. Army’s leading expert on depleted uranium”, or words to that effect. However, that claim is a lie.

In examining the many search results and web sites, one will find references to Dr. Rokke’s expertise cited either by a third party or by Dr. Rokke himself stating the following major credentials in one way or another.

1. Physicist, Ph.D.
2. In charge of DU decontamination and cleanup after Desert Storm, while assigned as health physicist of the 3rd Army, DU Assessment Team (1991).
3. The Army’s foremost expert on DU.
4. Director of the Army’s Depleted Uranium Project (1994 – 1995).
5. Director of the Bradley Research Laboratory at
Fort McClellan, AL (1997 – 1998)
6. Retired Major with 35 years of military service.

Other claims are made, but these are the most prominent and most often repeated ones. Let us now examine each claim.

Dr. Rokke is a Ph.D. That much we can say with certainty. However, is his Ph.D., or even his M.S. in Physics? We can confirm that he did graduate from Western Illinois University in 1975 with a B.S. major in Physics. Now let us look at his two theses.

• Rokke, D.L. (1986). The necessity and educational acquisition of selected vocational skills by Food Science graduates. Thesis (M.S.) – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1986.

• Rokke, D.L. (1992). Perceived physics concepts needed to teach secondary technology as general education. Thesis (Ph.D.) – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1992.

Somehow both these theses strike me as being about education, not physics. And indeed, that is what they are. Would not one expect a Ph.D., 16 years removed from his thesis, to have produced at least one published work in his field? Dr. Rokke has none, not as primary author and not as contributing author, nor does he claim any. How about peer-reviewed scientific journals? Would not one expect some additional research or insights from the Army’s foremost DU expert? There are none, nor does he claim any. Would not one expect the Army’s foremost DU expert to have been able to parley that level of expertise into a physics professorship at a college somewhere? Dr. Rokke is a high school teacher in Rantoul, Illinois.

Credibility as a physicist demolished, let us examine his second claim; that he was “in-charge” of DU cleanup and decontamination after Desert Storm (also known as Gulf War I). Simultaneously, it will become evident that he was never considered “the Army’s foremost expert on DU.” To do this we need to examine his military assignment history and the DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge From Active Duty) pertaining to his Gulf War service. A review of these official documents reveals the following:

Dec 1967 – Sep 1971 Active Duty U.S. Air Force Bomb System Navigation Mechanic. SGT E-4 (in Army terms that would make him only a corporal) He then has over two years break in service.

Jun 1974 – Jul 1974 Active Duty Marine Corps OCS Student, Private. (Note that the course is 90 days…he lasted 30) He then has over six years break in service.

24 Apr 1980 Enlisted in the Illinois National Guard and was assigned as a Company medic in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry. (He served in that capacity through 1 Sep 1982.) Another claim often made about Dr. Rokke is that he was a “combat medic”. A combat medic is, by definition, a medic who has served in a line combat unit under fire. He was never in a line combat unit, he was in the Headquarters Company of a Battalion and 130th Infantry was never under fire in the early 1980’s, ergo he is most definitely not a combat medic. He then had a year break in service.

31 Aug 1983 Enlisted in the US Army Reserve, assigned to the 5035th U.S. Army Reserve School in Peoria, Illinois as a Nuclear, Biological, Chemical NCO and Instructor. (His rank at this time is SGT E-5.) If you look at his duty MOSC 54E5H, it is broken down like this, 54E is his technical specialty, the second “5” is duty position rank, the “H” is the instructor designator. The fact that the far right column shows two efficiency reports means that he was at least a SGT E-5, because that is the lowest rank for which the Army does efficiency reports. At some point, he went through the Reserve Component commissioning process because in June of 1986 he accepted appointment as a 2LT in the Medical Service Corps. (Second Lieutenant is the lowest commissioned rank).

At the same time he was reassigned to the 30th Hospital Center at Fort Sheridan, Illinois as a Nuclear Medical Science Officer. (USAR-Ready) means that he was considered ready to be deployed on “short notice”. A Nuclear Medical Science Officer is responsible for training the medical staff on how to deal with potentially contaminated patients while treating wounds, and for making sure the medical unit is up to date on how to maintain a “clean” environment, instruments, etc. so that contamination is not spread. He remained in this position until called to active duty on 21 Nov 1990. Remember, the Reserve Component Soldiers drill one weekend per month, and two weeks during the summer. This was not his full-time job.

Most of the Army’s 68B / 72A (Nuclear Medical Science Officers) are in the Reserves and not in the Active Army. His recall then should not be construed as being because he was some sort of “genius”, but part of a normal activation of 68B’s throughout the Reserves to support imminent hostilities where there was a threat of the enemy resorting to NBC warfare. As of his deployment, he was not yet a Ph.D. in anything.

10 Dec 1990 he reported to the 12th Preventive Medicine Detachment in Riyahd, Saudi Arabia, again fulfilling the same role as in the 30th Hospital Center. Two days later, Colonel Charles E. Day III in writing to Captains Brett Armstrong of the 74th Preventive Medicine Unit, Charles Brannon of the 1st Medical Group, and Jon Carter of the 62d Medical Group with concerns about being prepared to handle contamination, including DU contamination, informs the Captains of the arrival of 1LT (First Lieutenant) Rokke in theater saying, “The 12th PVNTMED is now over there. 1LT Rokke is the 68B with that unit. The odds are very good that he knows little to nothing about the main 68B issues facing you all, so please try to locate him, and bring him up to speed. Share the materials I have sent you. I’ll start including him in the correspondence as soon as I can get an APO number on him.” This is hardly a ringing endorsement of 1LT Rokke’s expertise. (emphasis added)

25 Mar 1991 he was assigned to the Army Materiel Command, in Saudi Arabia. Note that this assignment is not, as he has claimed with the 3rd Army DU Assessment Team, but with the Materiel Command (the logisticians who test stuff and get it where it needs to be). His duties with AMC as Health Physicist (a lofty-sounding title) would have been similar to those he had with the medical units, only this time the “patients” were vehicles being prepped for return to the US, a job he held for all of two months. He spent the entire five months and 29 days in Saudi Arabia and never ventured north to where DU was extensively used.

Keeping in mind that 1LT Rokke at this point is not a well-known, highly regarded physicist or expert on DU, can we really believe that he was assigned such a sensitive mission as being “in charge” of DU cleanup in the Gulf? Do we really believe that the Army would place a 1LT in such a position over and above all the higher ranking officers who were in the theater at the time?

8 Jun 1991 he returned to his peacetime unit of assignment and duties at Fort Sheridan. REFRAD (Released from Active Duty). This seems to be a rather abrupt end for the man allegedly in charge of cleaning up all the DU contamination in the Gulf. Either he was incredibly efficient and accomplished his task in record time, or that was not his mission.

Let us now examine the next two assertions: Director of the Army’s Depleted Uranium Project and Director of the Bradley Research Laboratory at Fort McClellan.

15 Aug 1992 – 31 Oct 1993 he was assigned the 320th Medical Detachment at Fort Sheridan.

30 Jul 1994 – 13 Jul 1995 he was called to Active Duty at Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 84th Chemical Battalion at Fort McClellan, AL. It is here that his lofty title of Project Director comes into play. First, his call to Active Duty was most likely an obligation he incurred by having the Army pay for part of the cost of his Ph.D., which he received in 1992. The Ph.D. is in Education, not Physics. Hence it would make perfect sense to have the Army use the skills he acquired in Education to oversee the preparation of training material at the Chemical School. This does not make him “the Army expert on DU”. In fact the materials he is alleged to have prepared are simply the Chemical School’s input in how to handle potential contamination involving DU. Other agencies are the proponents for DU in the Army arsenal.

30 Nov 1995 he was REFRAD again and transferred to the 330th Medical Brigade at Fort Sheridan. He assumed the same duties as Nuclear Medical Science Officer and remained in that position through November 1998. His duty specialty changed, probably due to recoding of specialties that occurred in 1996. He was never again brought back on Active duty. So how can a Captain, not on Active Duty and possessing no scientific credentials beyond a physics major B.S. be in charge of an Active Army Laboratory at an Active Duty installation in Alabama, while simultaneously being assigned to the 330th Medical Brigade at Fort Sheridan, IL? The easy and correct answer is he can’t.

Lastly, let us review his claims to be a retired Major with over 35 years of Army service. By 1998 then, he had served a grand total of 5 years and 9 months on active duty (including his Vietnam service), and 12 years and 9 months in the Reserves or National Guard. This puts him at about 19 years, 8 months of total service by the time the current conflict begins, far short of 35 years of service, or 24 years of service, as he has claimed, but close to twenty. Major Rokke only became a Major in 2000 and left the Reserves in 2002 prior to the start of the current hostilities (Gulf War II, 2003 - ?). So we can add 4 more years to his service, giving him 24 years. If we add his breaks in service (which total almost 10 years) we are then close to the 35 years of service that he claims by drawing a straight line on the calendar from the time he entered the Air Force in 1967 until he left the Army Reserve in 2002. His assigment history looks as if it would be difficult to achieve the points necessary to "retire". However, without looking at either a copy of retirement orders, or full knowledge of the “points” he accumulated toward retirement as a Reservist, we can’t verify whether he is truly retired, or simply dropped out of the Reserves. I have been told, but I have no confirming documentation, that Dr. Rokke was transferred to the Retired Reserve for "non-participation" (he was not attending drills/training per his obligation).

In reviewing Dr. Rokke’s case, we can see the importance of verifying a source’s credentials before accepting their “expert” witness. Dr. Rokke is by no means alone in fluffing credentials in order to “sell” a particular position. When looking at discussions of technical or scientific nature, it is advisable to check the credentials before using those sources. That admonition is no less true for books, but as the Internet makes things so much easier and the “cut and paste” capability speeds the process, wrong information can be propagated fast in the Internet world.