By DANA LIEBELSON
Today, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) again threw her political weight into fighting secrecy at the Department of Defense (DoD), in particular, the DoD's justification for keeping secret information related to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune.
As POGO reported last month, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) recently released a redacted report on the water contamination at Camp Lejeune in response to a very legally dubious request by the Navy, which, citing security concerns about releasing “critical infrastructure information,” appeared to pressure the agency into not releasing the report in full. The critical infrastructure information that was kept secret happened to be related to the location of certain water wells which were contaminated for more than 30 years—but are still active.
Maloney sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta raising concerns about the Navy’s request and asking him pointed questions about how he plans to implement the “public interest balancing test” she helped author and pass last year. The new law requires the Defense Secretary, or designee, to use the test and determine whether security interests outweighs other public interests before withholding critical infrastructure information sought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Rep. Maloney is certainly not the only one troubled by the Navy and Marine Corps’ actions.
Last month, POGO and an extensive list of allies sent letters to Panetta and the Department of Health and Human Services asking them to properly implement the public interest balancing test, and release an unredacted version of the ATSDR report, respectively.
Mere days later, six more Members of Congress sent a letter to ATSDR urging for transparency and telling the agency to follow the law when considering whether to withhold information—not bend to the questionable demands of the Navy. These are the same bipartisan Members of Congress sponsoring the Janey Ensminger Act (H.R. 1742) and its sister bill, the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act (S. 277), bills that would help victims of Camp Lejeune receive medical and nursing care.
The latest letter by Rep. Maloney raises many of the concerns shared by open government advocates like POGO. From the letter:
I authored a provision that was included in the House-passed version of H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 that requires the application of a public interest balancing test by the Department of Defense (DoD) when exempting clearly-defined, sensitive, but unclassified “Critical Infrastructure Security Information,” or CISI, from responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests… Given the documented history of secrecy surrounding the Camp Lejeune investigation, the Department of the Navy’s actions raise serious concerns regarding the legal justifications for its most recent request for redactions from the Camp Lejeune report, particularly in light of the new CISI statutory exemption to FOIA.
Are the Department of Navy and the Marine Corps looking out for their own legal interests and images instead of those of the public, and the Marines and civilians affected by the contamination? The chorus of Members of Congress, concerned citizens, POGO and allies calling for truth and justice is only growing louder. We hope Panetta is listening.
Don’t forget to tune in tonight to MSNBC at 10 p.m. EST to catch the television premiere of Semper Fi: Always Faithful, a moving documentary on the Marine Corps cover-up of the Camp Lejeune contamination. Then, click here to take two actions that will make a real difference for the victims.
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.Follow @dliebelson
Image via World Economic Forum.