Medal Of Honor Winner Sues Defense Contractor

Guy Raz speaks with Julian Barnes, the Wall Street Journal's Pentagon reporter, about Dakota Meyer, a Marine who was recently awarded the Medal of Honor. Meyer is suing a defense contractor that he worked with, alleging they blocked him from another job in the defense industry as retaliation for his objections to selling high-tech instruments to the Pakistani military.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In the Wall Street Journal this week, a remarkable story caught our attention. It's about a defense contractor, BAE Systems, and its alleged decision to sell high-tech sniper scopes. The potential buyer in this story is the Pakistani military. But an employee inside BAE opposed the idea. In an email to his supervisor, the former Marine wrote about the Pakistanis: These are the same people killing our guys.

RAZ: The employee ultimately resigned over the sale. And here's where the story takes an unexpected turn. That former employee is Dakota Meyer, the first living Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq or Afghanistan. And the Journal reports that Meyer is now suing BAE Systems because, he says, the contractor then retaliated against him, telling at least one potential employer that Meyer was unstable and a problem drinker.

We're joined now by Julian Barnes, who reported the story for the Wall Street Journal. Julian, welcome.

JULIAN BARNES: Thank you.

RAZ: Let's start first with a timeline. How does Dakota Meyer go from an active duty Marine in Afghanistan to BAE Systems?

BARNES: He left active duty in the beginning of 2010, and then went to work for a defense contractor. Then he got hired away from that firm to go to work for BAE, which makes some of these thermal imaging sniper scopes.

RAZ: So he goes and works for BAE. When does the trouble begin to start at BAE over these particular scopes?

BARNES: Very quickly. Very soon after he started working there, he learned that BAE intended to seek permission from the State Department to sell these scopes to Pakistan. He had been stationed, when in Afghanistan, right on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And like a lot of Marines and soldiers were stationed there, he had very mixed feelings about the Pakistanis.

RAZ: At the time, he was not yet the Medal of Honor recipient. He was being considered for it. Now, was that known at BAE?

BARNES: It was known at BAE. And after he made the initial complaints, he says his supervisor started retaliating against him. And among the kinds of criticisms and retaliation he made were mocking and sarcastic comments about Dakota Meyer's pending star status, a reference to the fact that he was being considered for the Medal of Honor.

RAZ: Meyer objected to the sale of these scopes because he was stationed along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He may have come into contact or seen skirmishes between Pakistani forces operating on the border, or perhaps allowing Taliban to operate freely on the border. He clearly had very strong opinions about Pakistani troops.

BARNES: He did. And it's not minority opinion. I mean, even the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has leveled the criticism that the Pakistani military or intelligence services support Taliban militants. So, Dakota Meyer's position was hardly an outlier.

He also, in that email, made the point that the scopes that BAE was making were the best in the world. They were, in fact, better than some of the scopes that U.S. Marines had who were fighting in Afghanistan.

RAZ: He didn't feel that the Pakistanis should have that advantage.

BARNES: Right, 'cause he worried that the Pakistanis would either use them against the U.S. forces or hand them over to the Taliban.

RAZ: So, Meyer objects, he resigns from BAE in protest. What happens next?

BARNES: He was content, I think, at that point to make his resignation his protest. But right after he gave his notice, he received an email from his previous employer saying they wanted to hire him back but that his supervisor at BAE had contacted a federal government employee who supervises this sniper scope program. And the BAE supervisor had told the other official that Dakota Meyer had, as you said, a drinking problem and was mentally unstable. And they retracted the offer of employment.

RAZ: He, at that point, decided to file a lawsuit against BAE.

BARNES: That's right.

RAZ: What is BAE saying about all this, by the way?

BARNES: Well, BAE is in a little bit of a difficult position. They do not want to be seen to criticize Dakota Meyer; they dispute his claims and they will rebut them in the courts. They also make the point that it's not the company that decides what equipment can be sold to Pakistan, it is the State Department that does that.

This is an extremely awkward position for a defense contractor to be at odds with a Medal of Honor recipient, and one who is, you know, relishing that role - being in the parades, attending the Marine Ball, visiting military bases, very much trying to be an ambassador for the troops.

RAZ: I mean, it seems like after being awarded this medal, the sky's the limit, right? I mean, presumably he could go to any defense contractor and all of them would want to hire him.

BARNES: You would think that. On the other hand, he had - you know, people knew he was up for this award and he had a job lined up - a job he had performed successfully before and that job was taken away from him. So he and his lawyer believe that there is a worry that his reputation has been smudged, and BAE has essentially blacklisted him from defense jobs.

RAZ: Julian, thanks.

BARNES: Thank you.

RAZ: That's Julian Barnes. He covers the Pentagon for the Wall Street Journal, on the case of Dakota Meyer, the first living Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq or Afghanistan, and his lawsuit against BAE Systems.

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