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March 05, 2005

Ignorance is Safety

If everything is secret and we make ourselves as collectively stupid as possible, we can spread that ignorance to any potential terrorists and foil their plans. Hell, safety warnings only protect us from minor life-threatening hazards. Better to remove them so no one knows what's dangerous and what's not. That way the terrorists will get confused.

Or so goes the logic of the Bush administration's most recent brilliant idea to remove railcar signs warning people of toxics in the cars:

For decades, emergency-response teams approaching train wrecks have peered at the signs through binoculars to see what dangerous chemicals might be leaking. But federal officials will soon decide on a proposal to remove the placards from all tank cars. Their fear is that terrorists could use them to lock in on targets for highly toxic attacks...

The dispute illustrates a growing push to mask sensitive data about the nation's industrial base from the prying eyes of potential terrorists...People who live near chemical and nuclear plants, dams and oil and gas pipelines complain that it has become harder to find out about disaster plans and environmental hazards, and some have sued for more information. Engineering reports have been stripped from government Web sites, and several agencies are creating new controls on sensitive information that go far beyond the wide-ranging classification system built in the cold war.

Of course, it's just coincidence that corporate officials have been fighting for decades to keep this information secret, so as to avoid community and labor protests over sloppy disposal processes.

The Community Right to Know Network has documented the whole range of new Bush secrecy rules that threaten to destroy democratic accountability of corporate actions. To cite a few examples:

  • Floyd County, Va. resident Joseph McCormick discovered plans to run a high-volume natural gas pipeline through his community. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied him previously public information on the proposed pipeline route that he needed to educate and organize his neighbors.

  • A citizen's group in Aberdeen, Md. had to resort to the courts to regain access to maps held by the Army that detail the location of water contamination in neighborhood drinking water wells.

  • The Department of Justice has denied citizens access to information on chemical plant safety [on] whether they are in harms way from potential chemical plants accidents. Hiding this information reduces the pressure that the public can bring to bear on facilities to make plant operations safer.
  • The Bush administration believes that democracy is our enemy and only authoritarian measures will save us. But these policies punish whistleblowers in government and deny knowledge to community activists who could highlight the exact policies that make us vulnerable to terrorism.

    This is the real debate on national security. Bush believes that a small number of people in government are competent to control all knowledge and identify all vulnerabilities we face from attack. Progressives believe that democracy and civil liberties are strengths, not weaknesses for our society, since they enlist the intelligence of hundreds of millions of Americans in figuring out our vulnerabilities to attack.

    Posted by Nathan at March 5, 2005 07:43 AM