In response to reports of illegal shredding of documents related to the Enron collapse, the National Association for Information Destruction (NAID) (yes, it's a real organization) has issued a news release which says that "the overwhelming majority of document destruction that takes place on a daily basis is done so quite appropriately and for the cause of good." NAID, whose member companies are in the business of document destruction, characterizes the behavior of employees at Enron and Arthur Andersen as "unfortunate," but says that
Journalists and advocates of open govermment are dismayed as U.S. state governments weigh proposals to clamp down on the public's access to government documents and meetings, driven by worries that terrorists could use the information. States that have passed or are considering measures to limit public access include Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee and Washington.
The Project on Government Oversight has issued a report on reprisals and retaliation against whistleblowers at the U.S. Department of Energy. "Retaliation at DOE does not necessarily entail attempting to fire federal employees," it states. "In the majority of cases in the security area, DOE supervisors attempt to revoke the whistleblower's clearance on trumped-up charges. Then they remove them from any responsibility for oversight of security. On the other hand, contractors often lose their contracts, or their jobs, for blowing the whistle. ...
Washington Post reporter Michael Grunwald uncovers a decades-long campaign by Monsanto to hide its extremely toxic PCB pollution in Anniston, Alabama. Monsanto held a monopoly on PCB production in the United States until they stopped making them in 1977. For nearly 40 years while producing PCBs at the Anniston plant, Grunwald reports, Monsanto knew that the PCBs they were dumping into an Anniston creek and open-pit landfills were toxic and they concealed that knowledge.
If you want to know if any toxic wastes dumps are near where you might soon buy a home, you can no longer find out. If you want to know just what is really being done to keep nuclear power plants safe, you can no longer find out. If you are interested in the design and construction of dams, you probably will not be able to get any information about them from the government any more. If you want to visit the reading rooms provided by many government agencies, such as the IRS, you now must make an appointment, and you will be chaperoned.
"Taken individually, each of the new national security policies adopted by the Bush Administration in recent weeks has its pros and cons, its potential excesses and mitigating factors," observes the Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists.
"Not since Richard Nixon went to work in the Oval Office has there been so concentrated an effort to keep the real work of a president hidden, revealing to the public only a scripted leader," observes former White House Counsel John W. Dean, whose testimony to Congress helped blow the lid off the Watergate scandal. "Such secrecy invites us to wonder what is being hidden, and why. I know from first-hand experience that a president acting secretly usually does not have the best interests of Americans in mind. Rather, it is his own personal interests that are at stake."
Congress is on the verge of passing a new law (H.R. 3160) that would block public access to information about the US biological defense program under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Secrecy will do little to protect public safety, since extensive information has already been widely published about bioweapons agents, most of which are naturally-occurring. The Sunshine Project explains the public relations agenda behind the drive for secrecy, which may have more to do with protecting corporate reputations than public safety.
A number of organizations concerned with maintaining the integrity of journalism have established web pages that monitor current efforts to limit government freedom of information as part of the war on terrorism. They include the following:
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has issued a new statement of policy that encourages federal agencies to resist Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The new statement supersedes a 1993 memorandum from Attorney General Janet Reno which promoted disclosure of government information through the FOIA unless it was "reasonably foreseeable that disclosure would be harmful." The Ashcroft policy rejects this "foreseeable harm" standard and instructs agencies to withhold information whenever there is a "sound legal basis" for doing so.