By LANCE GAY
Aug 25, 2004, 22:44
Three years after 9/11, the shroud of government secrecy is spreading as agencies strip information from their Web sites and withhold public information on the grounds it could help terrorists.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for instance, announced on its Web site this month that it will no longer provide its public scorecard of security at U.S. power plants.
The agency has traditionally withheld details of security problems that federal inspectors find during routine inspections of power plants. But it used the scorecard every three months to provide the public a measurement of how power plants were doing. However, the panel decided even that limited information will no longer be published.
"In the post-9/11 environment, we continue to review all information," said commission spokesman Scott Burnell.
Having cable TV problems? Cell phone blacking out? Don't look to the Federal Communications Commission for reasons why.
It voted to withhold from the public any news of communication blackouts involving cable TV operators, satellite operators and telephone companies on the grounds that such information could provide "a road map for terrorists."
Releasing such information, the FCC said, would "seriously undermine national defense and public safety."
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says he is considering removing hazardous-material signs from trains and trucks because the placards "could help a criminal or a terrorist identify a target." In a notice published in the Aug. 16 Federal Register, Ridge asked the industry and other interested parties to comment on that plan and on other changes in security measures they would like to see.
Steven Aftergood, who monitors government secrecy for the American Federation of Scientists, said that taking hazmat signs from containers is a particularly silly idea.
"It's poorly conceived because it places at risk the lives of millions of Americans," said Aftergood. The hazardous-material signs are there to alert police and firemen to take precautions if the trucks or trains are in an accident.
Congress is considering even more sweeping transportation security measures.
As part of a highway bill now in a House-Senate conference committee, lawmakers are pushing Senate-passed language that would allow the government to withhold any information from the public that would be "detrimental to the security of transportation, transportation facilities or infrastructure, or transportation employees."
Karla Garrett Harshaw, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, says that the provision is so broadly drafted it could lead to the withholding of any information on contracts involving taxpayer-funded highway projects.
The Environmental Defense organization protests that the Department of Transportation could use the provision to withhold information on hazardous-waste spills on the basis that it might provide information to terrorists about system vulnerabilities, and to restrict information about rail and transportation routes for nuclear waste.
Moves to keep secret more government information come in the wake of the report by the 9/11 Commission, which found the government already had too much information that was over-classified. The Information and Security Oversight Office, an arm of the National Archives that oversees government classification programs, reported that the classification of government documents is increasing.
In its first two years, the Bush administration made 44.5 million decisions to classify material, about the same number made in the last four years of President Bill Clinton's term in office.
A coalition of Washington watchdog groups, led by the Project on Government Oversight, said in a new report that government over-classification costs taxpayers $6.5 billion a year. Each document costs $459 to secure and store.
"Openness both preserves democracy and saves money," said Richard Blum, author of the report, who contends secrecy is often used to hide government mistakes and embarrassing information voters are entitled to know.
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