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Advocate Freedom and Get Fired

Report by Stephanie Sailor, based upon Joe Huffman’s technical report and research notes.

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“I thought PNNL's mission was to support the Constitution--not destroy the lives of those who exercise the rights it guarantees.”
– Lyle Keeney, gun rights/civil rights activist from Moscow, ID

Joe Huffman is a research scientist in computer security. And according to his performance reviews, he is a good one. Documents from his previous employer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a government laboratory in Richland Washington indicate Huffman’s outstanding ratings.

Unfortunately, despite Huffman’s exceptional performance appraisals, PNNL fired Huffman from his high-level cyber security position of Senior Scientist on June 3, 2005. He was given no substantial explanation from the company regarding the firing. PNNL never made any specific, believable, allegations of wrongdoing or improper behavior.

After receiving the mysterious boot from the company, Huffman requested copies of his performance reviews and the PNNL procedures manual. The company flatly denied his access to the vital information, temporarily blocking Huffman from ammunition essential to winning a wrongful termination suit against PNNL.

Most disturbing is a technical report just released by Huffman telling the probable reason why he was hit with a pink slip: Joe Huffman was fired because he was a strong supporter of gun owner rights.

During the investigation that led up to Huffman’s firing, he was never given an opportunity to defend himself. PNNL executed an investigation, blasted him with a pink slip shortly thereafter, and Huffman was out of a job, with no severance pay.

That can't happen in America, can it? It can if you are a gun owner. 

In the August 2005 issue of the NRA magazine American Rifleman it is reported that at least 15 American gun owners, with legal guns legally stored in private automobiles in a company parking lot have been fired for just that: Guns in their cars on company property. Huffman's case reveals an even more extreme bias against gun owners, for PNNL appears to have taken an unwritten zero-tolerance position against people just writing about owning guns or using them for personal self defense or the defense of liberty against a tyrannical government.

”Imagine if Thomas Jefferson worked for PNNL. Just writing about gun ownership and liberty could get Jefferson fired."  says Huffman.

In many ways Huffman is no ordinary gun owner. His involvement with the organization Pink Pistols, a national gun rights organization supporting the right to self-defense for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered, has been featured in an editorial for the Seattle Times

Add that activism for alternative lifestyles with being a certified NRA firearms instructor, and Huffman shatters the stereotypical profile of a gun owner.

But it gets even more interesting.

Huffman is the organizer and director of
Boomershoot, an annual event for firearms/pyrotechnics enthusiasts, in which shooters hit exploding targets made of high explosives. The event has attracted hundreds of spectators and shooters from across North America, receiving favorable coverage in Newsweek, Outside Magazine, Chicago Reader, and, during the middle of the PNNL investigation of Huffman, on Seattle KING5 TV's Evening Magazine (complete video here).

As a speaker at the Gun Rights Policy Conference in St. Louis in 1999 and Washington D.C. in 2000, Huffman talked about using the Internet to further the rights of gun owners. And those are just the high points of Huffman's activism.

Huffman's online blog (short for weB LOG, an online public journal of personal and/or political postings) is a source of commentary on news related to gun rights, opposition to national ID cards, intrusive and ineffectual airport security, and most freedom related subjects. At times, Huffman’s comments can be blunt. He quotes Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership literature that asks, "Do Gun Prohibitionists Have a Mental Problem?" Huffman accuses people that refuse to address scientific research on the ineffectiveness of gun control of being bigots. However, at work, he kept his opinions low-key and was never asked by anyone to tone it down. His personnel record is spotless.

But the blog got him in trouble. On May 17, 2005, Huffman was called into the office of his manager, Bryan McMillan, Technical Group Manager, for a meeting to "touch base."  Accompanying McMillan in the meeting were two other witnesses, McMillan's supervisor Marty Peterson, Manager, and Safeguards & Security manager Michael Sutherland

With a two-inch-high stack of printouts from Huffman's websites in front of him, Sutherland and McMillan explained they had a problem with some of his postings, claiming that Huffman had released business and customer-sensitive information on his blog.  Huffman, who has a high-level security clearance, had made indistinct statements about work on his blog. There was no classified information on any of his websites.

When Huffman asked for specific details about what was wrong, they refused specifics. He repeatedly asked for a copy of the printouts, but was only allowed to see the top page.

"My suspicions were on full alert after that meeting,” says Huffman. “And after finding out that none of my co-workers, project managers, or program managers had been interviewed, I knew there was something else going on.”

The access log files to his websites told the true story. Tech note: Log files are different than blogs. Log files are files that detail site visitor traffic to/from websites, whereas a blog is an online personal journal.

Although PNNL is a government research laboratory, with numerous official secrets to keep, Huffman had discovered that operational security was exceedingly lax in at least one area--their web browsing. Huffman had noticed years earlier that when PNNL employee computers visited his web sites he could distinguish the visits of individual computers from the Internet Protocol (IP) address stored in the log files. Huffman states:

"Each request for a file on a website would leave a number -- the IP address -- which anyone connected to the internet could use to look up the name the user had given that computer. In most cases, if was trivial for someone on the inside to look up the name of the user of that computer. This is extremely poor operational security. A researcher on a top secret project could perform a search via Google for improvised explosive devices or biological warfare and leave not only his search words and phrases on the visited websites but a number that immediately told them he was working for a government laboratory and, potentially, the researcher's name."

Huffman told his supervisor, McMillan, and many of his coworkers about the problem. Nothing was done, though Huffman solved the problem for his own web browsing by using a proxy at his own expense to reroute his browsing and hide his status as a government researcher from the owners of websites. However, after PNNL fired Huffman, it was that very same lax operational security that worked to his advantage, for he could research PNNL’s investigation of his websites, pinpointing each and every time someone from PNNL scoured his personal websites.

Huffman quickly identified the computer names of the PNNL investigators because their website viewing was completely different than other visitors'. It showed an alarming pattern. It was his gun-owner rights activities that attracted their attention again and again. For example,  when Una Carriera, Specialist, Information Security first visited his blog, she saw a picture of clouds of smoke from the recently completed Boomershoot  and links to more pictures, and positive commentary about guns and explosives.

Carriera then saw a photograph of Huffman wearing a holster and a gun on his hip. She did not return for two days when, within a minute, she looked at the same picture again. Shortly thereafter, another computer showed up to help with the investigation. The name of this investigator is not definitely known but is believed by Huffman to be Carriera’s supervisor, Michael Sutherland, Manager, Safeguards & Security Services.

In Huffman's research notes from his web logs, this investigator is known as PUCK. Shortly after arriving on the scene and looking at video from the just completed Boomershoot, PUCK spent many minutes reading pages about
Firearms Instruction, Self-Defense and Firearms, Civil Disobedience, The Jews In The Attic Test, and Project Fireball (Boomershoot organizers' attempts to create Hollywood-style explosions for the event). There was a fixation on all things related to gun/civil rights, but little interest in business or security related postings. 

PUCK visited for about two and a half hours, looking almost entirely at gun-related postings. PUCK visited one blog posting twice--it was Huffman’s opinion about the relative sanity of gun owners versus people who wish to ban guns.

The visits to Huffman's websites went on for almost two weeks. Then, on the day before confronting Huffman for the first time, PUCK revisited certain pages in apparent preparation for the meeting. The list of pages apparently most interesting to PUCK is damning:

·         What I'm working on and why which was about a completely open, unclassified work project.

·         The Image Gallery with the picture of Huffman wearing a pistol on his hip.

·         Air Travel With Firearms on how to legally travel via commercial airlines with firearms.

·         Gun and Planes Stories on experiences gun owners have had traveling with firearms on various airlines.

·         Firearms Instruction which listed Huffman's credentials and the types of classes he teaches.

·         Weapons on Passenger Planes where Huffman advocates researching alternatives to the existing ineffectual and intrusive searches on commercial flights.

·         Then again Air Travel With Firearms.

·         Then again Gun and Planes Stories.

·         Then again Firearms Instruction.

The morning before the May 17th meeting with Huffman, PUCK again returned to Huffman's web sites, leaving still more damning evidence of his true interest by viewing the following web pages:

·         The Jews In The Attic Test which is about a objective test to determine whether a government restriction on freedom should be opposed.

·         Then again Weapons on Passenger Planes.

·         Then again Firearms Instruction.

·         Huffman's daughter's Live Journal Free

·         Huffman's daughter's Live Journal Musings of the Commando Kumquat

If those were the abovementioned web pages printed out and stacked on the table during the meeting, then it's no wonder why the investigators wouldn’t allow Huffman to view them.

Nine days after the first meeting Huffman was told to meet with Peggy Hevland, Specialist, Human Resources, and another woman from Human Resources. This meeting was very strange.  Huffman reports:

"Basically they asked me if I knew certain activities were against policy and if I had ever engaged in those activities. For the most part, I knew all the rules and hadn't intentionally broken any of them and I told them this. The only thing in question was I allowed my daughter and wife to use the company laptop a few times to browse the web, as I typically worked with my personal and work laptop side by side, at home. PNNL never presented any allegation or gave me an opportunity to refute anything. It was basically just asking me to 'confess', but I had nothing to confess."

At the end of the meeting, Huffman was suspended, without pay, and told to wait for them to contact him. McMillan said, "This is just the beginning."  But that was the last time Huffman would ever be asked his input on the matter.

As Huffman handed over his badge and office keys, McMillan told him "I don't know if you are a God-fearing man or not, Joe, but I think this is going to turn out okay." 

After Huffman was released from work, without pay, PUCK, and sometimes Carriera, continued to view Huffman's blog every business day. They appeared to just be looking at his daily postings of quotes related to freedom and to monitor his posting without being particularly interested in anything. Then on May 27th, PUCK found something that captured his interest. After using the search engine
www.mywebsearch.com with the search terms 'Joe Huffman' he found another web site with a blog posting by "Fish or Man" linked to one of Huffman's postings: Why Boomershoot? In it Huffman explained that he wanted to motivate people to acquire the skills and equipment necessary to fight a tyrannical government should it ever become necessary. 

PUCK studied this post for nearly 13 minutes. He viewed two posts linked from there--spending a minute and a half on a how explosives evoke a natural wonder and curiosity in humans. Then from the first click, until he went on to another of Huffman's websites, 30 minutes were spent on the post Citizen’s Committee Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCKRBA) -- CCRKBA blasts bigotry and possibly viewing the CCRKBA website. CCRKBA issued a news release which bluntly accused some people being bigots in attempting to restrict legally-licensed, law-abiding citizens who carried firearms from patronizing restaurants and bars. It directly compared these people to bigots who attempt restricting restaurant access to blacks. Huffman praised the news release.

Huffman was never asked another question or allowed any input into the investigation. None of his co-workers, project managers, or program managers were asked any questions. The viewing of his websites by PUCK and sometimes Carriera continued. PUCK would spend roughly an hour each day viewing pro-freedom quotes and comments about the hazards and predictions of failure for national ID cards. Then, on June 3, 2005, he went back to the Why Boomershoot? posting and contact was broken off for the day. Three hours later Huffman got a call from McMillan and Hevland with news on the investigation--Huffman was fired. 

Huffman thanked them--because he knew something they did not.

As long as Huffman was employed by PNNL there was little he could do about the company's anti-gun bigotry without fear of retribution. One of Huffman's co-workers, who must remain anonymous (for fear of retribution from PNNL), knew Joe Huffman far better than McMillan and Hevland. In a meeting a few days after the firing, he told Huffman, "They haven't got a clue as to what they stepped into."

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Report by Stephanie Sailor, former candidate for U.S. Congress . Stephanie is a Certified Firearms Instructor, Boomershoot Range Safety Officer, and national spokesperson the right to self-defense for women and the disabled. She was the Co-Founder of Chicago Second Amendment Sisters.

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Last update: May 25, 2006