False missile alert "button pusher" goes silent with investigators

This story was supposed to be over, except for the ongoing review of how the mistake was made and what can be done to prevent it in the future. When that doomsday alert hit every phone in Hawaii earlier this month, letting everyone know that the actual “fire and fury” was incoming and they probably had minutes to live, everybody was praying it was a mistake. Thank God, it actually did turn out to be a mistake. Or did it?

We were never told the identity of the mysterious Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) employee who supposedly “pushed the wrong button” and set off the alarm. As much as we’d like to have all the details, that sort of made sense, at least in the short term. If they threw the poor sap out in the spotlight on the day of the false alarm, it’s not entirely crazy to think that some enraged locals might hunt him down. (I’m just going to go with assuming it was a guy at this point and apologize later if it was a lady.) But in private, he was set to cooperate with the ongoing investigations being conducted by both the FCC and HI-EMA. That should help get things sorted out and make sure the system is up to snuff in the future.

There’s just one problem. The “button pusher” in question has gone silent after a single written statement and is refusing to cooperate with the investigation. (Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency “button pusher” who sent a bogus missile alert that triggered panic across the islands on Jan. 13 is not cooperating with either a Federal Communications Commission investigation nor two internal investigations.

“We are quite pleased with the level of cooperation we have received from the leadership of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency thus far,” Lisa Fowlkes, the FCC’s Homeland Security Bureau chief, testified today at a Senate hearing on the missile alert incident. “We are disappointed, however, that one key employee, the person who transmitted the false alert, is refusing to cooperate with our investigation. We hope that person will reconsider.”

The FCC sent two investigators to Honolulu but got no cooperation from the HI-EMA employee, Fowlkes said.

Just so we don’t get bogged down in any “fake news” tags here, this isn’t coming from unnamed sources. It’s been confirmed by both the FCC and HI-EMA. The latter has two separate internal investigations going on and the FCC is flying people out to the islands to conduct interviews, but our button-pusher is completely clamming up.

So what’s going on here? Assuming that the original clusterfark played out the way we were told, I’m having a difficult time imagining why the employee wouldn’t be fully cooperating. The person in question is described as a “warning officer” — an exempt, non-union employee. There was supposedly a computer program running which guided the employee through a number of steps, with the final one being a choice to either cancel the alert or send it out. He mistakenly chose to send it out. Yes, it was a bonehead maneuver which threw the entire country into a tizzy, but it was still just a mistake, right?

The employee was transferred to some other assignment outside the HI-EMA bunker but hasn’t reported for work since then. Refusing to cooperate with the investigation just screams “guilty” about something, but what could they possibly have to hide? Even if HI-EMA tries to fire him, odds are that’s he’s got a great case to sue to get his job back if there was no malice intended. If nothing else, his error pointed out a weakness in the system which needed to be addressed before the day when we might need to activate that alert system for real.

Not to veer too far off into conspiracy theory territory here, but there is one possible explanation which comes to mind. What if it wasn’t a mistake? What if this was something he was actually planning for a while, either to sow some seeds of mayhem or just as the most awful practical joke ever? If we want to go to a worst case scenario, you might imagine that he’s involved in something bigger and this was a test run to probe our response times and identify weaknesses in the system. If so, he may have told someone about it, sent some texts and emails or otherwise left a digital paper trail. If that’s the case he’d probably want to lawyer up pretty quickly and not give any testimony to investigators which could be proven false later.

Stay tuned. If the mistake of the century turns out to be something more than a mistake, this story could be heating up again very quickly.

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