Freedom of Information Act : LUSENET : Freedom! self reliance : One Thread

Saw this and thought some might enjoy it - The Monkey Wrench Gang is pretty good. "Keep it as it was." (1970's Edward Abbey)

The Day Ashcroft Foiled FOIA Ruth Rosen, San Francisco Chronicle January 7, 2002


The President didn't ask the networks for television time. The attorney general didn't hold a press conference. The media didn't report any dramatic change in governmental policy. As a result, most Americans had no idea that one of their most precious freedoms disappeared on Oct. 12.

Yet it happened. In a memo that slipped beneath the political radar, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft vigorously urged federal agencies to resist most Freedom of Information Act requests made by American citizens.

Passed in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal, the Freedom of Information Act has been hailed as one of our greatest democratic reforms. It allows ordinary citizens to hold the government accountable by requesting and scrutinizing public documents and records. Without it, journalists, newspapers, historians and watchdog groups would never be able to keep the government honest. It was our post-Watergate reward, the act that allows us to know what our elected officials do, rather than what they say. It is our national sunshine law, legislation that forces agencies to disclose their public records and documents.

Yet without fanfare, the attorney general simply quashed the FOIA. The Department of Justice did not respond to numerous calls from The Chronicle to comment on the memo.

So, rather than asking federal officials to pay special attention when the public's right to know might collide with the government's need to safeguard our security, Ashcroft instead asked them to consider whether "institutional, commercial and personal privacy interests could be implicated by disclosure of the information." Even more disturbing, he wrote:

"When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records."

Somehow, this memo never surfaced. When coupled with President Bush's Nov. 1 executive order that allows him to seal all presidential records since 1980, the effect is positively chilling.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, we have witnessed a flurry of federal orders designed to beef up the nation's security. Many anti-terrorist measures have carefully balanced the public's right to know with the government's responsibility to protect its citizens.

Who, for example, would argue against taking detailed plans of nuclear reactors, oil refineries or reservoirs off the Web?

No one. Almost all Americans agree that the nation's security is our highest priority.

Yet half the country is also worried that the government might use the fear of terrorism as a pretext for protecting officials from public scrutiny.

Now we know that they have good reason to worry. For more than a quarter of a century, the Freedom of Information Act has ratified the public's right to know what the government, its agencies and its officials have done. It has substituted transparency for secrecy and we, as a democracy, have benefited from the truths that been extracted from public records.

Consider, for example, just a few of the recent revelations -- obtained through FOIA requests -- that newspapers and nonprofit watchdog groups have been able to publicize during the last few months:

- The Washington-based Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization, has been able to publish lists of recipients who have received billions of dollars in federal farm subsidies. Their Web site,, has not only embarrassed the agricultural industry, but also allowed the public to realize that federal money -- intended to support small family farmers -- has mostly enhanced the profits of large agricultural corporations.

- The Charlotte Observer has been able to reveal how the Duke Power Co., an electric utility, cooked its books so that it avoided exceeding its profit limits. This creative accounting scheme prevented the utility from giving lower rates to 2 million customers in North Carolina and South Carolina.

- USA Today was able to uncover and publicize a widespread pattern of misconduct among the National Guard's upper echelon that has continued for more than a decade. Among the abuses documented in public records are the inflation of troop strength, the misuse of taxpayer money, incidents of sexual harassment and the theft of life-insurance payments intended for the widows and children of Guardsmen.

- The National Security Archive, a private Washington-based research group, has been able to obtain records that document an unpublicized event in our history. It turns out that in 1975, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave Indonesian strongman Suharto the green light to invade East Timor, an incursion that left 200,000 people dead.

-- By examining tens of thousands of public records, the Associated Press has been able to substantiate the long-held African American allegation that white people -- through threats of violence, even murder -- cheated them out of their land. In many cases, government officials simply approved the transfer of property deeds. Valued at tens of million of dollars, some 24,000 acres of farm and timber lands, once the property of 406 black families, are now owned by whites or corporations.

These are but a sample of the revelations made possible by recent FOIA requests. None of them endanger the national security. It is important to remember that all classified documents are protected from FOIA requests and unavailable to the public.

Yet these secrets have exposed all kinds of official skullduggery, some of which even violated the law. True, such revelations may disgrace public officials or even result in criminal charges, but that is the consequence -- or shall we say, the punishment -- for violating the public trust.

No one disputes that we must safeguard our national security. All of us want to protect our nation from further acts of terrorism. But we must never allow the public's right to know, enshrined in the Freedom of Information Act, to be suppressed for the sake of official convenience.

Ruth Rosen is an editorial writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.

-- Bill (, January 11, 2002


We are in serious straits here. The governmnet of the people, by the people and for the people is GONE! It is now secret government with legislators not allowed to read the bills they vote into law, citizens treated like criminals until they are proven otherwise, elected officials acting like complete Nazi's, police doing what ever they are told, or want to regardless of the peaky little Constitution, and while legislating or passing out King's edicts that destroy our liberty these politocos get great approval ratings for doing so, and on and on and on.

Yet STILL, here we sit looking for what kind of action to take. This nation is gone. We have a shell I see it we are occupied by a hostile foreign power.This government bears no resemblance tto a Constitutional Republic, it is fascist in all manners.

When, when, when, will WE the People stand up en masse and DEMAND our rights back?

-- Doreen (, January 12, 2002.

Yes, the Constituion is dead, not due of course, to this most recent event. All of our internalized, unconscious thoughts about freedoms need to be reexamined. Our expectations about government and our interactions with each other need to be rethought in light of this reality. We make assumptions that aren't reasonable.

Particularly and idea we might have that we can expect any privacy. I think that the publishing of the names of all people who had received any USDA government subsidy was wrong. And it was achived through the "feedom of information act". The FOIA, like every other thing will be used as a tool in political warfare.

-- charles (, January 12, 2002.

Keep in mind the FOIA doesnt require the Government to give you anything. It just gives you the right to sue for the information.

-- Gary (, January 14, 2002.

the whole system is messed up first we have the righ to do something then they take it away and if this is a democratic system then why is it that it says in the pledge of alligance in the republic for which it stands anyone out there with common sense email me back

-- my right not to (, May 06, 2002.

KNOW THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United states of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. The meaning of the Pledge of Alligance...created by Boy Scout Troop 67. When you pledge allegiance to your flag, you promise loyalty and devotion to your nation. Each word has a deep meaning. I pledge allegiance.....I promise to be true the the symbol of our country ....of the United States of America ....a country made up of 50 states and several territories, each with certain rights of its own ...and to the Republic ...a country where people elect representatives from among themselves to make laws for them ...for which it stands ...the flag represents the country Nation, under God ...a country whose people are free to believe in God ...indivisible ...the country cannot be split in parts ...with liberty and justice ...with freedom and fairness ...for all. For every person in the country.

-- kay328 (, July 22, 2002.

listen carefully to the first words "I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag" now what does allegiance mean to give your full devotion right, but to give your full devotion to a flag come on how lame and stupid is that

-- (, August 01, 2003.

It also says "and to the Republic for which it stands".

-- Daryll in NW FLA (, August 01, 2003.

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