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[infowar.de] mehr zur "Zensur" der US-Regierung
Christian Science Monitor 3.12.01
Security concerns drive rise in secrecy
Clampdown covers websites, libraries, even press releases.
By Brad Knickerbocker | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
During the darkest days of World War II, Americans were warned that
"loose lips might sink ships." Information carelessly shared with
wartime adversaries could quite literally cost lives and maybe even lead
to military defeat.
Today's "war on terrorism" has its equivalent forms of government
secrecy and censorship - controversial, but apparently accepted (so far,
at least) by most Americans. The federal Government Printing Office has
ordered public libraries to pull sensitive items from their shelves.
Websites have been scrubbed of certain information and, in some cases,
shut down entirely.
The Pentagon has urged defense contractors to use discretion in
publicizing "even seemingly innocuous industrial information" normally
touted in press releases. The federal Freedom of Information Act has
been curtailed. Calls have surfaced to censor environmental groups that
reveal toxic polluters in the name of public health and safety.
President Bush alluded to this trend last week at a conference of US
attorneys. "We're an open society, but we're at war," he said. "Foreign
terrorists and agents must never again be allowed to use our freedoms
While most open-government advocates are worried about this mounting
clampdown, some acknowledge the need (for example) to pull the shade on
information about nuclear power plants that has been available to the
public. The Federation of American Scientists, a Washington-based group
that fights what it believes to be the government's over-classification
of information, has removed about 200 pages related to intelligence and
nuclear weapons from its own website.
Another private watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight in
Washington, urged the US Department of Energy (which runs the federal
government's nuclear-weapons program) to remove from its website "highly
sensitive information that could be useful to terrorists."
The prospect of secret military tribunals for captured terrorists, as
well as Justice Department secrecy about those arrested or detained for
questioning in this country since the Sept. 11 attacks, have been cause
for growing debate.
"A common thread in the recent Justice Department actions is the secrecy
and lack of congressional consultation," Kate Martin, director of the
Center for National Security Studies in Washington, told the Senate
Judiciary Committee last week. "By considering these actions in secret
before adopting them, the administration prevented any public debate
about their effectiveness."
But defenders say such secrecy could help prevent future attacks.
"Information about who is presently detained by the government, when and
where they were arrested, their citizenship, and like information could
be of great value to criminal associates who remain free," former US
Attorney General William Barr told the same committee. One concern, he
said, is that more information about law-enforcement techniques would
make it easier for Al Qaeda members to elude detection.
Attorney General John Ashcroft no doubt will face sharp questions on
such issues this week when he appears before the Senate Judiciary
Equally controversial is the debate over government agencies and private
organizations that use "right-to-know" laws to alert citizens to
potential health and environmental dangers. The Environmental Protection
Agency and some state agencies have removed or restricted such
information, as well as data about such potential terrorist targets as
dams, reservoirs, and pipelines.
This has government watchdogs worried. "By restricting our right to
know, even through a well-intentioned effort to protect safety,
government is abandoning its duty to warn the public if a community is
at risk," says Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health specialist at the
US Public Interest Research Group in Washington.
That's not a view universally shared. "Not to mince words, but public
safety always trumps environmental concerns," says Amy Smithson, an
expert on chemical and biological weapons with the Henry L. Stimson
Center in Washington. "In this day and age, Washington can no longer
afford to hand any interested individual a road map to the chemical
calamities they could cause...."
In the wake of recent anthrax attacks, the danger of biological weapons
is "prompting scientists themselves to question the proper limits of
secrecy and disclosure in this sensitive field," says Steven Aftergood,
who heads the Federation of American Scientists' project on government
Still, those who advocate increased secrecy and censorship face new
challenges as information moves to cyberspace. One major problem is that
once something is available on the Internet, just shutting down the
primary site doesn't mean a complete blackout, since the information
still can be found on private hard drives or for sale on CD-ROM.
All of this comes at a time when the trend has been toward more openness
in government. In the wake of a 1995 executive order by former President
Bill Clinton, agencies have been declassifying millions of pages of
documents no longer in danger of compromising national security - most
of those from the Defense Department.
In its annual report, released last week, the federal Information
Security Oversight Office reported that "in spite of increasing
obstacles, the agencies of the executive branch continue to declassify
unprecedented numbers of records of permanent historical value."
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