Retired United States Air Force officer Tim Ferner is enjoying life in Henley after revealing a multimillion-dollar scam involving a military contractor. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
A retired United States Air Force officer is enjoying the
quiet life in Henley, after receiving death threats for
blowing the whistle on a multimillion-dollar scam.
Lieutenant-colonel Tim Ferner (52), who shifted to 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 for which he worked.
As a result of Lt-col 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
Lt-col Ferner, one of few US military whistle-blowers, had so
far received a total of about $US1.3 million for blowing the
whistle on the scam and with three cases still outstanding
that figure would probably climb.
American law entitles him to 25% of all money recovered.
The total value of the fraud had 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
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 was enjoying living on a 5ha block with his Mosgiel-born
wife Liz and sons Liam (19) and Matthew (16) and called New
''When we lived in [Las] Vegas, I had to carry a concealed
weapon ... and actually had to pull it out three times.''
The last time involved a neighbour who threatened him with a
shovel after Lt-col Ferner called the police about a crystal
''The kids called the cops and when the cops came their
response to me was 'that was a clean kill, you should have
done it' and that's when I said 'it's time to go'.''
''You don't realise how lucky you have it [in New Zealand].''
Lt-col 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 program to check
contractors' time sheets were accurate.
''I randomly picked a guy's time sheet, knowing the guy had
been sick. His time card should have only showed 20 hours.
When I built the program, I was stunned to find out the guy
had actually charged the military for 60 hours.''
At the time, Lt-col Ferner was being treated for cancer as a
result of being exposed to radiation during the first Gulf
War and the fact it could have killed him was part of the
reason he chose to continue raising the issue.
''This is the legacy I leave. I either teach my kids ... what
is right and what is wrong ... or I roll over keep my my
mouth shut,'' he said.
The fraud was systematic of a lack of accountability after
the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, when the US Government
''opened the floodgates'' 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 having to pay only $US105,000 for his role
in the fraud and that no-one in the Air Force had been held
''In my opinion, the Air Force just wants this thing to go
away so that it can go back to business as normal.''
As to what came next, he had just been accepted as University
of Otago PhD candidate and was thinking about doing a
doctorate on whistle-blowing.