Top New Zealand military scientist quits after resume claims

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New Zealand's top military scientist has quit, it was announced Thursday, after allegations that his resume falsely claimed he was an ex-Marine and an Olympic bobsledder who raced against Jamaica's "Cool Runnings" team.

Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae said chief defence scientist Stephen Wilce had resigned, a day after TV3's "60 Minutes" made the allegations about him.

The programme also accused him of claiming to have designed nuclear weapons guidance systems.

Mateparae said British-born Wilce, who had the highest level security clearance, was already under investigation before Wednesday's programme over "employment, security and credibility issues".

Wilce headed Defence Technology Agency (DTA) for five years but "60 Minutes" alleged he had padded his resume with false claims about his qualifications and past achievements.

They included being a combat veteran in Britain's Royal Marines and a member of the British bobsleigh team at the 1988 Calgary Olympics and competing against Jamaica, which inspired hit the 1993 movie "Cool Runnings".

"I know them all," Wilce said in footage filmed by an undercover reporter. "I know all the Jamaican guys... mad, absolute nutters."

"60 Minutes" reported that no record existed of Wilce serving in the Royal Marines or having combat experience, and that no one on the 1988 British bobsleigh team had heard of him.

Previous employers and colleagues told the programme Wilce had claimed he designed guidance systems for Britain's Polaris nuclear missiles, a now-defunct system that was launched in 1960, at the height of the Cold War.

He also said he had worked for MI5 and MI6, the British secret services, the programme reported.

It said at one previous workplace he was known as "Walter Mitty", a reference to US author James Thurber's fictional character who lives in a fantasy world.

The DTA that Wilce headed provides advice to the military on matters such as electronic surveillance and potential threats to Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft in Afghanistan.

Mateparae said the defence force began investigating Wilce after receiving anonymous information in July.

He said the scientist was suspended last week and resigned "before today", but did not reveal the exact timing or allegations against him.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said he had asked for a full report on Wilce's employment, including what background checks were carried out.

"I absolutely want to see that this sort of thing would never happen again. It is not acceptable," Mapp told reporters.

© 2010 AFP

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