Fri, Oct 29, 2010 - Page 5 News List

NZ military red-faced by fantasy world of scientist

AFP, WELLINGTON

New Zealand’s military admitted it was “seriously embarrassed” yesterday after an inquiry revealed it granted high security clearance to a scientist who lived in an elaborate fantasy world.

The head of the Defence Technology Agency Stephen Wilce quit last month after it was revealed he falsely claimed to be an ex-Marine combat veteran and an Olympic bobsledder who raced against Jamaica’s “Cool Runnings” team.

Details of an inquiry released yesterday unveiled the extent of Wilce’s claims to incredulous colleagues, saying the defense force’s top scientist had admitted to telling tall stories about himself since childhood.

It said Wilce claimed to be a helicopter pilot who served with Prince Andrew, a spy with British intelligence and a special forces soldier who was on an IRA death list.

Among numerous other fabrications, he also said he had been a member of the Welsh rugby union team, captain of the Royal Navy swimming team and a guitarist on the British folk music circuit.

The report found Wilce had embellished his resume when he was hired in 2005 and his appointment was made with undue haste. It called for tighter vetting procedures in defense force recruitment.

“Some dumb decisions were made,” Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae told reporters.

The report found that British-born Wilce had not posed a significant threat to national security.

“Mr Wilce may, however, present a risk to the reputation of New Zealand with its international and security partners,” it concluded.

The report said concerns were raised about Wilce’s tendency to “big note” himself when he was hired, but they were not properly followed up.

He headed 80 staff at the agency, which provides technological support to New Zealand’s military, for five years.

Defense finally launched an investigation into his past last July, but he resigned before it was concluded when commercial broadcaster TV3 revealed his fanciful claims.

They included being a combat veteran and a member of Britain’s bobsleigh team at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, where he supposedly competed against the Jamaican team that inspired the 1993 film Cool Runnings.

“I know them all,” Wilce said in footage filmed by an undercover reporter. “I know all the Jamaican guys ... mad, absolute nutters.”

Previous employers and colleagues told the program that Wilce was a “Walter Mitty” character who claimed he designed guidance systems for Britain’s Polaris nuclear missiles, a defunct system launched 50 years ago during the Cold War.

“When you put all of the things together, when you connect all of the dots, it’s bloody embarrassing,” Mateparae said.

He said that while screening procedures had proved inadequate, most of the failings lay with Wilce’s “reprehensible” conduct.

“He represented his work history, military career, achievements, academic qualifications and activities in other fields in a way that was neither honest nor complete. Not only have his actions damaged his reputation, they have damaged the morale of those he led at the Defence Technology Agency, and they have damaged the reputation of the New Zealand Defence Force,” Mateparae said.

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