Readings — From the May 2014 issue

Operation Paper Clip

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From a report by the Inspector General of the Air Force on allegations against Major General Stephen D. Schmidt, who retired in January after his behavior toward subordinates was found to be “cruel and oppressive.” The redacted report was released to the Washington Post in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

With regard to the throwing of paper clips, Lt. Col. [redacted] described the incident:

He threw a paper clip at my face within the first couple of weeks of working for him; he flicked it at my face, it hit me in the eye. As a pilot, I didn’t appreciate that too much, and I told him that, and he goes, “Well, sorry about that, maybe you should have been wearing some f-ing racquetball goggles,” and he kind of laughed like it was an accident. I do believe it was somewhat an accident, but he flicked at me on purpose. He also flicked twenty more on the floor and told me to pick them up.

Maj. Gen. Schmidt remembered this incident concerned some NATO classified information that was attached to unclassified documents in his inbox on his desk. When he discovered this, he called Lt. Col. [redacted] into his office to discuss why they should not use paper clips and showed him the materials. Maj. Gen. Schmidt described the incident:

I did not throw it, I tossed it into the empty outbox. I was, um, on the far side of the desk, and it bounced out of the box. One paper clip. I never saw it hit him. I don’t think it was possible that it hit him, physically, it just wasn’t physically possible for a clip to bounce halfway out of the box, halfway across the room, and he didn’t flinch, didn’t do anything, stood there for a second, and he said, “It hit me in the eye,” and I immediately — I didn’t see that, I didn’t think it was possible. I immediately apologized.

The testimony portrays two divergent versions of what happened, and there is no other evidence or indicia of truth.

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