Subtitle:  A federal judge dismisses an action brought by former 
workers at a classified Air Force facility.

Publication:  Las Vegas Review-Journal
Date:  March 7, 1996
Page: 1 (2 pages)
Author:  Warren Bates

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought by former workers 
at the Air Force operating location near Groom Lake, allowing the 
government to keep from disclosing any information on the 
classified base.

Ruling that a trial "risks significant harm to national security," 
U.S. District Judge Philip Pro on Wednesday dismissed the suit, 
which alleged the military committed and concealed environmental 
crimes at the Lincoln County base.

Workers' attorney Jonathan Turley said an appeal to the 9th U.S. 
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco would be filed as soon 
as possible. In the meantime, he will ask Pro to reconsider his 

"This is simply the end of the first stage of litigation," said 
Turley, a George Washington University law professor. "From the 
very beginning of this case we anticipated an appellate fight over 
these questions." 

The workers contend they contracted illnesses and injuries as a 
result of open pit burning of hazardous waste at the base, located 
35 miles west of Alamo. Turley argued the waste disposal 
procedures violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Perhaps the biggest blows to the lawsuit occurred last year when 
the government declared any release of information a threat to 
national security.

In February 1995, Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall invoked the 
military and states secret privilege, citing the potential for 
"exceptionally grave" consequences to national security. When the 
workers challenged that decision, President Clinton in September 
signed an exemption allowing the secrecy to continue.

Because no information on the base is currently available to the 
workers, Pro ruled, no controversy can be shown and a lawsuit 
cannot be brought.

When properly invoked, the privilege is absolute," 23-page 
decision said.

It continued: "If mere allegations of criminal conduct were 
sufficient to overcome the privilege, the privilege would be 

Turley said he was not surprised at the outcome "given the court's 
prior rulings," saying the workers' claims would be appealed to 
the highest level possible.

"We have argued that the executive branch's authority cannot 
extend to the concealment of its own criminal conduct. We are 
confident that we will prevail on these questions because the 
Supreme Court has been clear that the executive branch powers are 
limited in this regard."

Turley pointed toward some aspects of the lawsuit he regarded as 

"These workers have already successfully litigated the first case 
against a black facility in history. Previously they were told 
they could not retain a lawyer and file a federal action," he 
said. "The government was unable to dismiss this lawsuit during 
discovery and was forced to perform an inspection and inventory on 
the facility and, against its will, it was forced to get a 
presidential exemption."

Turley also said that the government finally admitted the facility 
had to comply with federal law regarding inspections and that it 
had failed to do so in previous years.

In April, federal environmental investigators for the first time 
inspected the facility, but the results of that inspection are 

"Effectively these changes will make it impossible for the 
government to argue in future cases that it can create a place 
that does not legally exist," Turley said.

The government, he said, struggled to dismiss all the counts in an 
effort to avoid a record "while we struggled to preserve a 
record." Pro's decision, he said, has ramification's only for 
Nevada while a reversal on appeal would have national 

The lawsuit was one of two brought by the workers. Pro  dismissed 
another complaint in January.