Back on July 18, Christopher Bartley (a police lieutenant for the National Institutes of Standards and Technology), tried to refill a butane lighter.
Or he tried to cook a batch of meth.
Either way, the result was the same: he accidentally blew the windows out of a highly secured government research facility.
Bartley, who served in the army and was recently acting chief of NIST’s police department, was on duty at around 7:30 last month when an explosion “ripped through the lab sending a blast shield flying about 25 feet.”
Firefighters got the butane lighter explanation from Bartley, but investigators became suspicious when they found pseudoephedrine and drain opener at the scene.
They became even more suspicious when they found a recipe for methamphetamine.
That discovery apparently prompted Bartley to admit that in fact, the explosion was the result of an attempt to cook meth at the site. He resigned the next day and would later be charged with “knowingly and intentionally attempt[ing] to manufacture a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine.”
Open and shut, right? Not so fast, says Bartley’s attorney, Steven VanGrack.
You see, what looks to everyone like one man’s attempt to use a government research lab to live out a fantasy of becoming Walter White, was actually a well meaning attempt to “understand more about this substance.” It was “unauthorized training experiment,” VanGrack continues, adding that it “clearly failed.”
Apparently, the court is meant to believe that had Bartley succeeded in cooking the drug, he was merely going to educate his fellow officers on the process, presumably in an attempt to increase awareness.
“He wanted to see how to make it,” VanGrack concluded.
And on that point, there seems to be little doubt, but as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said after the blast made news, this isn’t exactly what taxpayer money is supposed to be funding. “The fact that this explosion took place at a taxpayer-funded NIST facility, potentially endangering NIST employees, is of great concern,” Smith said, in a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Commerce (embedded below).
As for the facility itself, we’ll leave you with the following description from the official government website. The punchline is highlighted for your amusement:
Welcome to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s web site. Founded in 1901 and now part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST is one of the nation’s oldest physical science laboratories. Congress established the agency to remove a major handicap to U.S. industrial competitiveness at the time—a second-rate measurement infrastructure that lagged behind the capabilities of the United Kingdom, Germany, and other economic rivals. Today, NIST measurements support the smallest of technologies—nanoscale devices so tiny that tens of thousands can fit on the end of a single human hair—to the largest and most complex of human-made creations, from earthquake-resistant skyscrapers to wide-body jetliners to global communication networks. We invite you to learn about our current projects, to find out how you can work with us, or to make use of our products and services.