Robert Jackson slipped into a San Diego pay phone, nervously dialed the downtown hotel where a congressman’s aide was staying and whispered, “My life is in danger.”
Jackson proposed a deal. The young sailor claimed that he had 2,000 pages of Navy documents that showed case after case of fraud, forgery and kickbacks aboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk.
He was willing to share the materials if in return Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) could keep him off the carrier’s upcoming deployment and away from enlisted men who had threatened him, recalled Dave Gerrie, Bates’ administrative aide.
“He obviously was a shaken young man,” said Gerrie, who met with Jackson on June 5 shortly after the phone call. “He was at times very articulate, very incisive. . . . He was being driven, I suspect. One after the other, he dropped a bombshell on my bed until every spot in the room was covered with documents. Obviously, he was onto a problem.”
Events moved swiftly for the baby-faced petty officer who became a media star as he went toe to toe with the Navy, hurling a series of startling allegations concerning the ineptness of the Navy supply system aboard aircraft carriers.
Jackson’s allegations of sloppy bookkeeping procedures and sailors routinely tossing expensive materials into the sea created a flurry of nationwide stories and congressional inquiries that forced high-ranking Navy officials in Washington to order an investigation.
On Tuesday, the high point of Jackson’s whistle-blowing career will occur in Washington, where he is scheduled to testify before the House sea power subcommittee on the problems that plague the Navy supply system. He will appear with Bates and Commodore James B. Whittaker, the Navy’s assistant commander for inventory and systems integrity--pretty heady stuff for a 26-year-old sailor from Bakersfield.
Like many whistle-blowers, Jackson has brought considerable attention upon himself, much of it controversial. His motives and his character have been scrutinized in the same manner as the truth of some of his allegations.
Jackson has been criticized by Navy officials for pursuing his allegations with an “evangelical zeal.”
“As a whistle-blower, he was a zealot,” said one Navy officer in San Diego. “He thought he was a disciple of the Lord. He really tried to mix the two. He felt that what he was doing resulted from his religious calling.”
Jackson, who describes himself as a “born-again” Christian, said he is thinking of demanding an apology from the Navy during Tuesday’s congressional hearings for “slandering” his religious beliefs.
Jackson’s name first appeared in print on July 12, when Bates told a House government operations subcommittee that the whistle-blower’s life was threatened because he had reported “fraud, kickbacks and a variety of supply schemes.”
In the last two months, Jackson has appeared on national television and his story has been told in Time and Newsweek magazines. Along with features on actress Ann Jillian and singer Bruce Springsteen, a recent issue of People magazine carried a full-page photo and profile story of Jackson.
As Jackson posed for television cameras to spread allegations of fraud and waste aboard the Kitty Hawk, the Navy conducted a 3 1/2-month internal investigation into his charges. The 12-inch-thick report is being reviewed by Navy officials in Washington and is expected to be released during Tuesday’s subcommittee hearing. Navy sources told The Times that the investigation did not uncover widespread examples of fraud, mismanagement, waste, kickbacks or bribes, as alleged by Jackson.
But the report confirmed several of Jackson’s charges, including the dumping of materials, falsification of signatures on government documents, sloppy bookkeeping and improper purchases of personal items from the captain’s reserve account.
The investigation portrays Jackson as a “bitter” and “vindictive” sailor who wanted “to get” the captain of the ship for paying only $200 instead of the $25,000 Jackson had expected to gain when he submitted a plan for a training course to the Navy’s beneficial suggestion program.
Robert William Jackson was one of eight children born and raised in Bakersfield by a self-employed petroleum engineer and his wife, who died of brain cancer in 1980. Jim Jackson recalled that as a young boy his son Robert was intelligent, but shy.
“Bobby was always a little quieter than the others. His prime hope originally was to become a lawyer or something, but it didn’t work out,” he said.
Jackson’s father, who served three years in the Navy, said he is proud of his son for exposing the Navy’s supply problems. “I’m all for it,” Jim Jackson said. “I know the static he’s taking in the Navy. Anytime you go and buck the system, you get static. It takes guts to do it.”
Bob Jackson attended Bakersfield High for three years and belonged to the bowling club and forensics team. In 1977 he graduated from Highland High in Bakersfield. Jackson said he was a “straight-A student,” but school records show that Jackson never got an A during his three years at Bakersfield High and carried a below-C average. Jackson said his grades improved considerably during his senior year at Highland High.
On to the Navy
Jackson signed up for his first tour with the Navy after graduation. He left in 1980 and began selling life and health insurance in Jacksonville, Fla. He first went to work at Mutual of Omaha, where, Jackson said, he won every award for a first-year agent and took corporate training in marketing, public relations courses and liability insurance, Jackson said.
But Duane Shapcott, Jackson’s manager at Mutual of Omaha, said that Jackson had “an above average mentality for the business, but did an average job.”
Jackson left Mutual after less than a year to join Connecticut General. “The main reason he left us was that he wanted advance training faster than we like to schedule it for him,” Shapcott said. “He had a propensity to move on and grab onto something he wasn’t qualified for in our business.”
Similar disagreements surfaced between Jackson and the Navy over his role on the Kitty Hawk. Jackson said he was the ship’s financial auditor in charge of balancing the books for 90 supply divisions. But Navy spokesman Tom Jurkowsky said: “He was a good administrator who had good clerical skills. . . . He was not an auditor. That’s his own characterization. The Navy never considered him one.”
Marriage Turned Bad
Jackson said he left the insurance business and rejoined the Navy for a two-year hitch because a nasty marriage and divorce left him broke and deeply in debt to the IRS. He was assigned to the Kitty Hawk in September, 1983, not long after he re-enlisted.
Jackson, who was raised as a Catholic and was an altar boy, said it was after the breakup of his marriage that he accepted Jesus Christ into his life and became a “born-again” Christian.
“I have no blind faith in anything or anybody,” Jackson said. “I started to read biblical interpretations of original Scriptures, study the Bible and so I became devout.”
Jackson said his religious beliefs created conflict during his second tour with the Navy when his supervisors occasionally refused to give him an hour off on Sundays to pray.
Called a Troublemaker
Navy officials have portrayed Jackson as an “evangelistic troublemaker” who made the sign of the cross in various storerooms and told the devil to get out. On other occasions, he reportedly told crew members, “With the help of God, we’ll clean up this mess in the Navy.”
Jackson, who was honorably discharged Aug. 30, said he considered himself an evangelist but denied that his religious beliefs had anything to do with his decision to become a whistle-blower.
“The Navy should have never attacked my Christianity. They never had the right. That’s a heckuva thing. I blow the whistle on the system and they attack my Christianity. What is this country all about?”
During Jackson’s weeks in the spotlight he appears to have acquired a grander vision of his role as a whistle-blower. “I’m tired of playing games,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to Washington as a timid sheep into slaughter. I’m going as a lion. There are things I want answers to that I think the people of this country want answers to. I’ll embarrass the Navy when they talk about their investigation. I’m going to expose what I believe to be a cover-up.”
May Urge Referendum
Jackson said he also has been contemplating calling for a national referendum to raise the national debt ceiling. He recognizes that to hold a national referendum, a constitutional amendment may be necessary. If so, he has considered calling for a constitutional convention to enact such a provision.
“Like a lot of people, he likes attention,” Bates said of the man he introduced to public note. “I can’t fault him for wanting to get his story out and have recognition for what he’s doing. You can always criticize the style or method of someone, but the hard facts are he’s got a story to tell that needs to be told. Thank God he had the courage and initiative to tell it.”
Bates said he thinks Jackson will make a credible government witness who should impress the sea power subcommittee.
“He understands the books, he is meticulous in documenting his concerns and he basically comes over as a sincere, earnest young sailor who maybe is a little overzealous,” Bates said. “But when you get so frustrated with the system, you tend to become a little overzealous.”