from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
March 21, 2001


A new federal court decision found "enormous public benefit" from documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), illustrating the enduring value of that 35 year old law.

The case involved nuclear workers seeking records on the government's decision to "privatize" the U.S. Enrichment Corp. (USEC), a government corporation that produced enriched uranium. The decision to sell off USEC in 1998 was made behind closed doors and, as it turned out, involved gross conflicts of interest.

By using the FOIA to challenge the secrecy of the decision-making process, the workers "have forced the public release of countless important documents relating to the privatization of USEC," wrote DC District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in a March 16 ruling.

"The public benefits of Plaintiffs' [FOIA] lawsuits are substantial," she found. Among other things, "the released documents have been, and will continue to be, greatly beneficial to academic and scholarly commentators who are interested in privatization, 'reinvention of government,' non-proliferation policy, and/or decision-making theory."

"The transcripts of the closed [USEC] Board meetings... reveal the ways in which bias, self-interest, and self-dealing can influence the decision-making process, especially when that process is kept entirely secretive," Judge Kessler wrote. "The Board's deliberations ... were a model of what not to do when considering various options for privatizing a federal entity."

The March 16 decision focused on the question of whether the nuclear workers who filed the FOIA lawsuit, and their legal team, led by attorney Dan Guttman, should be awarded attorneys' fees. (Mr. Guttman, some will recall, was the outstanding executive director of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments in 1994-95.)

The government argued that the Plaintiffs were not entitled to attorneys' fees because their interest in the released documents "was the narrow one of saving [their] jobs."

But at a time when corporate interests increasingly dominate public policy, Judge Kessler boldly found that the workers' interest was "substantially identical to a concern for the public interest-- for the protection of the environment, workers' safety and government integrity, among other things."

She ruled that the Plaintiffs were entitled to attorneys' fees. "Given the nature of the [FOIA] lawsuits, and the vitally important public benefits that resulted therefrom, Plaintiffs' request for fees is well within the range of reasonableness."

Judge Kessler's ruling is a thing of beauty. It might, however, tempt younger readers to want to go to law school. A copy is posted here:


Sandia National Laboratory recently suffered a "major hacker incident," according to a March 16 article by Bill Gertz in the Washington Times. He cited anonymous "U.S. intelligence officials" to the effect that "hackers suspected of having links to a foreign government successfully broke into Sandia's computer system and were able to access sensitive classified information." See:

But that story is "untrue," Sen. Pete Domenici told the Albuquerque Journal in a March 17 article. "My staff and I have been regularly briefed by Sandia, and I don't believe that's an accurate statement," Domenici said. See:

It is hard not to notice that a number of recent news reports purportedly based on classified information are turning out to be wrong, or at least are plausibly disputed. Another Washington Times story that appeared on January 3 reported, based on classified sources, that Russia had moved tactical nuclear weapons to the Baltic Sea port of Kaliningrad. This unconfirmed claim has been vigorously denied by senior Russian officials up to and including President Putin.

The publication of possibly erroneous news stories involving classified information provides another reason not to try to criminalize the unauthorized disclosure of classified information to the news media, as some in Congress have proposed to do. Prosecuting such acts would have the undesired effect of publicly distinguishing the true from the bogus "classified" stories.


Senator Domenici took to the Senate floor yesterday to defend a newly declassified non-lethal weapon known as the Vehicle Mounted Active Denial System (VMADS).

"This is a non-lethal weapons system based on a microwave source. This device, mounted on a humvee or other mobile platform, could serve as a riot control method in our peacekeeping operations or in other situations involving civilians. This project and technology was kept classified until very recently," Sen. Domenici said.

"The Pentagon noted that further testing, both on humans and, evidently, goats will be done to ensure that it truly is a non-lethal method of crowd control or a means to disperse potentially hostile mobs."

"The notion that the Pentagon is using 'microwaves' on humans, and especially on animals, has inflamed some human and animal rights groups."

"Among others it has simply sparked fear that a new weapon exists that will fry people," he said. "This is not the case."

Senator Domenici's full statement is posted here:


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