Foia Evaders Lose

Marisa Demarco
3 min read
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Good on District Court Judge Robert Brack for ruling that the National Nuclear Security Administration in Albuquerque has to respond in a timely matter to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Before you, reader, navigate that nightmare of a proper noun-eaten sentence, let me give you some definitions. The FOIA is a federal rule that says when anyone—you, the press, anyone—requests certain public documents, a governmental agency has to give them up. The National Nuclear Security Agency is charged with overseeing the stockpile of nuclear weapons in the United States.

Citizen Action, a public interest group, has been using FOIA requests going back to 2004, seeking information on: 10-year site plans for Sandia National Laboratories; radioactive waste at the Mixed Waste Landfill and info about environmental monitoring; and radioactive contamination of plants and animals at Sandia. Citizen Action built a federal lawsuit against the Nuclear Security Agency, and received a victory on April 1. Judge Brack described the agency’s reluctance to provide info as a "continuing pattern and practice of unlawful delay." He even called the agency’s review process "Kafkaesque."

It’s vital to our country that the FOIA is upheld in courts of law. And, in this case, everyone certainly has a right to know what potential radioactive hazards could be around them. There are those who would argue that some information should be kept from the public. But the court and the people should have a line-drawing mechanism available. That’s the FOIA.

Bush Pisses On Freedom

And when I say freedom, I’m talking about your freedom to call a reporter as a confidential source and reveal the wrongdoings of someone who has the potential to retaliate. The "Free Flow of Information Act," sponsored by Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, would allow reporters to protect confidential sources.

Here’s the rub: Confidential sources often reveal negative facts about governmental agencies. And who isn’t happy about that? The government.

Of course, Bush and his cronies wrote letters to senators saying the act is a threat to national security and would spark a spate of leaks. The definition of a journalist "can include those linked to terrorists and criminals," wrote Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

I say, fine—tinker with the language. But the ability for frightened sources to tell what they know should be protected and taken seriously by the president. It’s part of democracy, a system of checks and balances, one of which is a free press. If people don’t feel they can come forward about ills inside ailing agencies, how will those things come to light?

Further, Bush’s actions certainly don’t do anything to alleviate citizens’ mistrust of their government. Reporters go to jail all the time rather than reveal their confidential sources. But they shouldn’t have to.
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