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National Archives Aided Agencies’ Removal of Declassified Documents from Public View

The National Archives colluded with the Air Force, CIA and other agencies to take thousands of declassified historical documents off Archives shelves, according to an April 12 Washington Post story.

In a 2002 memo, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and released April 11 by nonprofit research library National Security Archive, Archives officials said they would help remove the materials for possible reclassification. The Archives said in February that about 9,500 records totaling more than 55,000 pages have been removed and reclassified since 1999, according to the Post.

The memo “shows that the National Archives basically aided and abetted a covert operation that whited out the nation’s history by reclassifying previously released documents,” Thomas S. Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive, said in the Post.

The archives would not name the agencies involved in this operation, according to the Post, but National Security Archive historians say the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department and the Justice Department also have participated.

Posted 04-12-2006 4:52 PM EDT

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Bush Officials Try to Hide Global Warming Facts from Public, Researchers Say

An increasing number of reports are surfacing about how the Bush administration is making it difficult for climate researchers to inform the American public about global warming.

The latest, published April 6 in The Washington Post, says that employees and contractors at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well a U.S. Geological Survey scientist, report that administration officials have chastised them for speaking on policy questions; removed references to global warming from reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news leaks; and at times urged researchers to stop speaking to media.

“There has been a change in how we’re expected to interact with the press,” said Pieter Tans, who measures greenhouse gases linked to global warming and has worked at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., for two decades. Fortunately for the public, he also said he “often ignores the rules.”

Posted 04-06-2006 1:58 PM EDT

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Court Strikes Down Rule Denying Public Access to Auto Safety Information

A U.S. District Court on March 31 struck down a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that denies public access to information submitted to the federal government by automakers about possible safety problems. Click here for more information.

Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the rule was not a “logical outgrowth” of the agency’s rulemaking notice, which gave no warning that the government would withhold the safety information from the public. Instead, Leon said the rule was a “surprise switcheroo” from the department’s proposal.

 The Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act of 2000, passed in the wake of the Firestone tire debacle, requires manufacturers of motor vehicles, tires and vehicle parts to give DOT “early warning” data about potential safety problems. However, the industry successfully persuaded DOT to keep large portions of that information out of the public’s spotlight, apparently to protect commercially sensitive information.

“We intend to keep fighting before the agency and, if necessary, the courts to make sure that this vital early warning data is not wrongly withheld from the public,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, which sued the DOT over the matter. “[The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] should move immediately to public the information it has been withholding on deaths and injuries.”

Posted 04-05-2006 3:52 PM EDT

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IRS Must Hand Over Agency Performance Data by Tax Day, Court Says

A federal court in Seattle ruled on April 4 that the IRS must give a widely recognized researcher detailed statistics about how the agency enforces the nation’s tax laws. Click here to read more.

Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered the IRS to turn over its statistical data to Susan B. Long, a Syracuse professor and co-director of the nonprofit research organization Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

Long had been collecting the statistical information for almost 30 years, under a court order issued to her in 1976. She used the data to report on -- and often criticize -- IRS performance. However, in 2004, the agency stopped complying with the court order and began refusing Long access to the information.

“It is essential that a powerful agency like the IRS live by the law,” Long said. “This ruling, which requires the agency to abide by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and provide TRAC with information about how it is collecting the nation’s taxes, is a win for the American people, who want to assure themselves that the IRS is operating in a fair and effective manner.”

 

Posted 04-05-2006 3:25 PM EDT

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White House Silences Dire Evidence of Global Warming

 A world-renowned global warming researcher told “60 Minutes” on March 19, 2006, that the White House is censoring and revising his findings to block his message that global warming is accelerating and could be unstoppable in a decade.

  James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says the White House is scrubbing his facts to downplay the dangers of global warming. Hansen says humans have only 10 years to reduce greenhouse gases before global warming can no longer be stopped. And humans are to blame for burning fossil fuels that pump out carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, he says.

  But the Bush administration heavily edits the scientific data and spins the facts to project a much less alarming - but politically advantageous - global warming picture, according to the “60 Minutes” story. To control the release of information related to global warming, the administration has issued an electronic directive requiring all global warming press releases to go through the White House and has limited Hansen’s access to the media.

  “In my more than three decades in the government I’ve never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public,” Hansen says.

 

Posted 03-21-2006 5:02 PM EDT

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U.S. Archivist Calls for Moratorium on "Reclassifying" Documents

Allen Weinstein, the chief archivist of the United States, called for a moratorium on government agencies’ highly questionable practice of “reclassifying” documents that once were classified and were later made public. According to a March 3 New York Times story,  more than 55,000 pages of documents that agencies say were wrongly declassified have been removed from public view, including Web sites. 

Historians and other foes of excessive government secrecy have complained that the “reclassification” effort is often misguided for two reasons: 1) the records are already public - many have been posted on Web sites - and can’t be made secret again; and 2) there’s no valid reason to withdraw many of the records. According to the Times story, among the reclassified documents are reports on Communism in Mexico in the 1960s, intelligence estimates from the Korean War and Treasury Department records from the 1960s.

Weinstein, a published historian, called on the intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, “to commit the necessary resources to restore to the public shelves as quickly as possible the maximum amount of information consistent with the obligation to protect truly sensitive national security information.”

Weinstein, of course, does not have the authority to order powerful intelligence agencies to release documents, and planned to meet with intelligence and military officials to explain his concerns. But historians and other secrecy foes, such as a spokeswoman for the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said it was gratifying that Weinstein “took our concerns very positively.”

 

Posted 03-03-2006 6:18 PM EDT

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Using the Law to Fight Bush Secrecy

Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ excellent Project on Government Secrecy, points out two recent articles documenting how American citizens, including librarians and lawyers, are fighting the Bush administration’s heavy-handed tendency to hide more and more government information behind a wall of secrecy.

In a thorough article in Law Library Journal, University of California law librarian Susan Nevelow Mart draws up a detailed indictment of the Bush administration’s tendency to hide information even when there seems to be virtually no reason to do so.

She contrasts Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno’s pro-disclosure instructions to government agencies with John Ashcroft’s message that any official who decides to withhold records will be backed up by the Department of Justice. She also describes cases where the administration simply seems to be hiding information that might be embarrassing or provoke controversy, such as the location of environmental hazards.

But Mart suggests how secrecy opponents can use the Electronic Freedom of Information Act (E-FOIA) of 1996 (an expansion of FOIA) to reclaim information that the feds have removed from agency Web sites. That is, in cases where information was previously on the Web and was “well publicized” and where “there are multiple FOIA requests for the removed pages, the agency is obligated to make those pages available in its electronic reading room.”

Mart suggests a way for people to coordinate their efforts to get those documents back in the public arena. Mart’s article is called “Let the People Know the Facts: Can Government Information Removed from the Internet Be Reclaimed?”

And in an article in Federal Computer Week titled “Decrying Secrecy, Citizen Groups Fight Back,”  reporter Aliya Sternstein describes how anti-secrecy organizations are getting around government restrictions by publicizing government documents without official permission. Many of these fall into the netherworld of documents that are not classified but are not released to the public for vague or undisclosed reasons.

Posted 03-01-2006 12:58 PM EDT

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Cheney's Fowl Shot Again Reveals a Secretive Administration

The news that Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and wounded a fellow hunter in Texas Feb. 11 has raised questions about why word of the accident took almost a full day to reach major U.S. media.

Cheney hit Harry Whittington with a shotgun at about 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11. According to The New York Times chronology, the news got to President Bush about an hour and half later, but no one in the White House or on the vice president’s staff told anyone in the media about the shocking event. Instead, it was left to Katharine Armstrong, a member of the shooting party, to break the news. At 11 a.m. the next day, she called a reporter at her local newspaper, The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Katharine Armstrong is the daughter of Anne Armstrong, a Republican contributor, long-time Cheney friend and owner of the ranch where the shooting took place.

Cheney and his staff were not commenting, but White House press secretary Scott McClellan was peppered Monday, Feb. 13, with questions from reporters about why the White House hadn’t made the news public and why it had been released through a small Texas newspaper. McClellan told reporters that when he learned about the shooting at 6 a.m. Sunday he advised Cheney’s staff to get the information out “as quickly as possible.” Cheney’s office didn’t do that.

In fact, when the Corpus Christi newspaper asked Cheney spokesperson Lee Anne McBride whether the White House would have released the information if the Texas paper had not called, McBride said, “I’m not going to speculate. When you put the call in to me, I was able to confirm that account."

A lighthearted wrap-up of the media circus surrounding the shooting and Cheney’s subsequent disappearing act appears in ABC News’ daily political blog, The Note.

But many news media took the vice president’s secrecy seriously. A New York Post editorial asked, “If there was nothing to hide, why the secrecy?”

And the Washington Post editorialized, “Neither Mr. Cheney nor the White House gets to pick and choose when to disclose a shooting. Saturday’s incident required immediate public disclosure - a fact so elementary that the failure to act properly is truly disturbing in its implications.”

Comedians, news media and politicians had a field day with the story, especially because it seemed that the shooting victim would recover. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who had been scandalized when the vice president told him on the Senate floor to “go *#%! yourself,” joked, “In retrospect it looks like I got off easy.”

However, on Feb. 14, Whittington suffered a heart attack, sending him back to the intensive care unit, which could change the tone of commentary on the issue.

 

Posted 02-14-2006 4:48 PM EDT

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Administration Stonewalls on Government Spying

The U.S. Justice Department is refusing to comply with requests from the Senate Judiciary Committee for the department’s classified opinions on the legality of government spying on U.S. citizens without a warrant. The spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) has raised a fierce storm of controversy since it was revealed by the media in January.

According to The New York Times, the administration claims that the internal memos would add little to the official “white paper” already made public, but several key senators seem to disagree.

“That’s not a closed matter; we’re still working on that,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Judiciary Committee chairman. The committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing on the NSA spying program on Monday, Feb. 9.

On whether the NSA spying, authorized by President Bush after the 9/11 attacks, violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, Specter said the operation “violates FISA ­- there’s no doubt about that.” Specter is trying to dig deeper into the Justice Department rationale for the spying by examining its internal deliberations. There have been internal struggles within the department about the program’s legality, and it was suspended for several months in 2004.

The standoff over the spying controversy comes on the heels of similar Bush administration refusals to reveal internal memos on how it dealt with Hurricane Katrina and material on former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has now pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

Posted 02-03-2006 12:25 PM EDT

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With Their Privacy Protected by Feds, Workers Won't Get Back Wages

When it comes to protecting citizens from government surveillance, the Bush administration usually takes a dismissive attitude toward privacy claims. But in a case where an advocacy group wants to let workers who have been deprived of their rightful pay know how to collect their back wages, the federal government is proving surprisingly zealous in “protecting” the workers’ need for privacy.

Now, Interfaith Worker Justice, a Chicago-based worker rights organization, is suing the U.S. Department of Labor to obtain the workers’ names. The Public Citizen Litigation Groups, representing IWJ, filed suit Jan. 18 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The case pertains to nearly 100,000 “unlocatable” low-wage workers who are owed back wages as part of government settlements (for example, people who are owed overtime pay that they never received). 

The Labor Department’s refusal is surprising, because for two years, the department worked with IWJ on a project to create a searchable Web site to assist the government in disbursing back wage settlements to unlocatable workers. The project was the idea of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

IWJ began building the Web site, working extensively with the Labor Department’s technology department in 2002. But in 2004 department officials told IWJ that they had privacy concerns and cut off all communication with IWJ.

In April 2005, IWJ submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the names of all workers owed back wages under federal settlements. But the Labor Department denied the request, citing a privacy clause in FOIA. As of 2004, approximately 95,000 workers had about $32 million coming to them from the Labor Department collection system.

A press release on the case and a copy of the suit are available on Public Citizen’s Web site.

Posted 01-20-2006 1:45 PM EDT

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