US whistle-blower enjoys quiet life in Otago

By Vaughan Elder

Retired United States Air Force officer Tim Ferner is enjoying life in Henley after revealing a multimillion-dollar scam involving a military contractor. Photo / Peter McIntosh
Retired United States Air Force officer Tim Ferner is enjoying life in Henley after revealing a multimillion-dollar scam involving a military contractor. Photo / Peter McIntosh

A retired United States Air Force officer is enjoying the quiet life in Otago after being in the media spotlight as a whistleblower in a multimillion-dollar defence scam in his home country.

Lieutenant Colonel Tim Ferner, 52, who moved to the town of Henley with his family two years ago, says he was ostracised by his superiors in the Air Force for uncovering a scam involving a United States defence contractor and the anti-terrorism think tank he worked for.

As a result of Colonel Ferner's actions, the contractor, Science Applications International Corp (SAIC), in July agreed to pay the United States Government $US5.75 million to settle allegations it circumvented the bidding process and induced the Air Force to award the company lucrative contracts.

Colonel Ferner, one of few US military whistleblowers, has so far received about $US1.3 million for blowing the whistle on the scam and with three cases still outstanding that figure is likely to climb - with US law entitling him to 25 per cent of all money recovered.

The total value of the fraud has still not been revealed by the US Government.

The response to his discovery and the lack of accountability was systematic of deeper problems in the US Government and a sense of entitlement among senior ranks in the military, he said.

When he told his superiors he was asked to keep quiet.

"I was called into the office and told you are coming up on retirement and I'm coming up on retirement and if we just look the other way on this we could each have a really lucrative contract or job [for a contractor]."

He later received death threats.

A similar lack of accountability would not be allowed to happen in New Zealand.

"There is no way it could happen here, Kiwis wouldn't put up with it. They would be outraged," he said.

He is now living on a 5ha block of land with his Mosgiel-born wife Liz and sons Liam, 19, and Matthew, 16, and calls New Zealand "paradise".

Colonel Ferner, who was Chief of Staff for Coalition and Irregular Warfare Centre, an Air Force think-tank, when he uncovered the scam, said his suspicions were first raised when he was asked to write a computer programme to check contractors time sheets were accurate.

"I randomly picked a guy's timesheet knowing the guy had been sick, his time card should have only showed 20 hours. When I built the programme I was stunned to find out the guy had actually charged the military for 60 hours."

The fraud was systematic of a lack of accountability after the September 11, 2001 attacks, with the US Government opening the "flood gates" on anti-terrorism funding.

He was yet to receive a "thank you" or any other recognition from the Air Force for uncovering the fraud.

He remained angry the middleman in the contracting process had escaped with only having to $US105,000 for his role in the fraud and that no one in the Air Force had been held accountable.

"In my opinion the Air Force just wants this thing to go away so that can go back to business as normal."

As to what came next, Colonel Ferner said he had just been accepted as a University of Otago PhD candidate and was thinking about doing a doctorate on whistleblowing through the Information Science Department.

- Otago Daily Times

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