The OutHeroes Project: Senior Chief Petty Officer (Ret.) Timothy McVeigh

| September 9, 2011 | 3 Comments

As we count down the days to the final end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we are highlighting the contributions of military service members who’ve come before us in this fight for justice. In particular, we are focusing on those whose stories have not been publicized recently, those who many have forgotten – or never knew. This is far from a comprehensive list: it is only a small and random sample of all those who struggled and sacrificed so that gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans can serve in the military with integrity. But these inspirational stories are solid reminders that LGBT people have served their country, and will continue to serve their country, fiercely and honorably.

After September 20th, once “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is finally ended, OutHeroes Project will profile currently-serving gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard members.

In Honor of Senior Chief Petty Officer (Ret.) Timothy McVeigh

by Michelle Benecke, Esq.

Timothy McVeigh was a senior enlisted leader onboard the nuclear submarine USS Chicago when the Navy tried to discharge him in 1997 based on information the Navy fraudulently obtained from America Online (AOL).

McVeigh challenged his discharge in federal court and, on January 29, 1998, Judge Stanley Sporkin granted a permanent injunction to prevent the Navy from discharging McVeigh. In a strongly worded opinion, Judge Sporkin ruled that the Navy violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) by failing to obtain the required warrant or court order before seeking information about McVeigh from AOL. He termed the Navy’s actions a “search and destroy mission” and wrote that the Navy “went too far” in pursuing McVeigh.

Ultimately, McVeigh settled with the Navy and was allowed to retire with full benefits and the promotion the Navy had denied him during its investigation.

America Online conducted an internal investigation and admitted its mistake in releasing information about McVeigh. Further, AOL found that the Navy deliberately violated the law by using a pretense to obtain information that tied McVeigh to a personal profile that contained the word “gay.” AOL also settled with McVeigh and turned over the results of its investigation to the court.

With a slim chance of saving his career under DADT, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network sought assistance from the nation’s foremost internet privacy experts to bring suit on McVeigh’s behalf and publicize his predicament. They included Christopher Wolf and his team at Proskauer Rose; the Electronic Privacy Information Center; Center for Democracy and Technology; and, Wired Strategies. The latter launched an internet advocacy campaign that was itself a landmark and engaged activists and journalists in the fledgling field of internet privacy, some of whom are leading online commentators and bloggers today.

McVeigh’s case protected anonymous statements and secured the ability of gay, lesbian and bisexual military members to find community online and to organize, including during the effort to end DADT. OutServe, Servicemembers United and others are McVeigh’s legacy. More broadly, McVeigh’s case set a landmark precedent to protect all Americans from government snooping.

UPDATE: This post incorrectly listed McVeigh as a “Master Chief Petty Officer,” and has since been updated to reflect his correct rate of Senior Chief Petty Officer, as well as his position as one of the most senior enlisted leaders onboard the nuclear submarine USS Chicago. Thanks, William!

Category: OutHeroes

Comments (3)

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  1. William T. Door says:

    Somebody needs to fact check this story.

    First of all, Tim was an ETCS(SS), that is a Senior Chief, not a Master Chief. And his billet was “Chief of the Boat” which in its own a bit misleading, as the Engineering Department on CHICAGO had a Master Chief who is was the senior enlisted leader by rank.

    Tim was also lucky that the squadron officer bungled his investigation by going too far and getting info out of AOL that was not publicly available. Unfortunately because Tim inadvertently sent official correspondence from his “other” personal AOL account, the evidence was all there. Thank god for over zealous investigating officers.

    Tim was a victim of the worst – a bitter, evil Navy wife who was afraid to let her husband go to sea with gays. Had she not pushed this incident up to the command, it would just gone away. The submarine force has been for years, for the most part, very gay friendly. Most submariners don’t care, nor did most ever care. The only time I saw them use the gay boot was when there wasn’t an easier way to get rid of a poor performer.

  2. J. Mills says:

    Thank you, William. Verified and updated accordingly!

    • Michelle Benecke says:

      Hi there. FYI — my original had McVeigh’s rank correct as of his retirment. As part of his settlement, McVeigh was granted promotion to Master Chief Petty Officer. Had the Navy not gone after him, he would have been promoted during the time his case was being litigated, hence the settlement terms.

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