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Former Police Officer At NIST Pleads Guilty To Attempting Meth Manufacture At Federal Lab

Security: Explosion came from “shake and bake” method of making illicit drug

by Cheryl Hogue
August 21, 2015

Image of a NIST sign.
No researchers or scientific work was harmed in the explosion at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, MD.

A Maryland man who worked as a security officer at a federal laboratory outside of Washington, D.C. pled guilty on Aug. 21 to attempting to manufacture methamphetamine at the facility’s lab.

Christopher R. Bartley’s July 18 attempt to make the illicit drug through a highly risky technique called “shake and bake” resulted in an explosion in a lab at National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Md., his plea agreement says. The blast badly burned his arms, singed his eyebrows, and blew out four windows in NIST’s special project building, which is separate from the rest of the facility’s extensive laboratories.

Bartley, 41, was a lieutenant on the NIST police force until he resigned the day after the explosion. He faces up to 20 years imprisonment for the crime and could have to make restitution to the government for the damages he caused at NIST. Bartley will be sentenced in federal court in November.

The “shake and bake” method Bartley used involves mixing sodium hydroxide-based drain cleaner, lithium extracted from batteries, pseudoephedrine tablets, ammonium nitrate, camping stove fuel and other ingredients in a soft drink bottle, according to law enforcement sources. The container is shaken and the cap removed to relieve pressure. The mixture is highly combustible. This method produces the drug, commonly called meth, faster than another widely used technique that involve heating or “cooking” ingredients.

Bartley was charged with attempting to make less than 5 g of meth. U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein told reporters that prosecutors have no evidence indicating that Bartley was planning to sell it. Bartley was operating alone, Rosenstein said.

The July 18 explosion happened in a lab room at NIST used for combustion experiments and had windows designed to blow out rather than shatter, Rosenstein said. The four windows were recovered between 22 and 33 feet from the building, according to Bartley’s plea agreement.

At the time of the blast, the room was empty. NIST researchers had recently completed an experiment there and their equipment had been removed, according to the agency. NIST says no scientists and no research efforts were harmed by the explosion.

The incident raised questions in Congress about the safety and security in federal research laboratories. Bartley’s attorney, Steven VanGrack, tells C&EN that congressional investigators have not contacted his client, adding that Bartley is cooperating with authorities.



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