FC: Stimson Center replies to accusations it demands gvt censorship

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Fri Nov 16 2001 - 23:20:21 PST

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    On Tuesday I forwarded a copy of Secrecy News that highlighted what
    Amy Smithson of the Stimson Center told Congress should be done about
    government chemical data mirrored on private-sector websites:
      Stimson Center demands gvt censorship of chemical-data websites
    Amy's testimony is part of a years-long debate over chemical plant
    data. Here's an article I wrote in Feb. 1999:
    Now Amy is trying (see below) to back away from her testimony, which
    you can find here:
    >Taking matters into their own hands, certain private interest groups
    >have begun presenting on their own websites data gleaned from Risk
    >Management Plans and their Off-site Consequence Analyses
    >sections... Immediately, these interest groups must cease and desist
    >activities that make data on hazardous materials facilities available
    >to widespread public view, removing this data from their websites. 
    >Failing their voluntary cooperation, the US government should take
    >swift steps to close down the pertinent segments of these
    >organizations' websites and take legal steps to prohibit them from
    >distributing this data in the future on the Internet or by other
       FAS Note: The following commentary by Amy E. Smithson, Director,
       Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project at the
       Stimson Center responds to an account of her testimony published in
       the FAS newsletter Secrecy News.
         In the November 13th issue of Secrecy News, Steven Aftergood quoted
         my testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure
         Committee's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment on
         November 8th. The direct quotes I certainly recognized, but the
         accompanying interpretation of my policy recommendations was way
         off course.
         In August 2000, the government issued a new regulation governing
         the public availability of the Risk Management Plans of over 15,000
         facilities that deal with amounts of hazardous and extremely
         hazardous chemicals over certain thresholds. One section of this
         document describes scenarios about releases of these dangerous
         chemicals, including information about how such releases could
         happen and how many people would potentially be hurt or killed.
         Some data from the Risk Management Plans, including the executive
         summaries of these scenarios, were subsequently published in
         searchable form on the Environmental Protection Agency's Internet
         site. While the detailed scenarios themselves were not posted on
         the Internet, they remain viewable at reading rooms in each state
         and several US territories. My testimony addressed this specific
         regulatory decision. Mr. Aftergood's editorial neglects this fact,
         painting my comments as a general attack on environmental websites
         that deal with chemical hazard information and their first
         amendment rights.
         Without embellishment, Risk Management Plan data could provide a
         veritable roadmap for terrorists or other saboteurs who might wish
         to unleash a chemical disaster without surmounting the considerable
         obstacles of making chemical weapons from scratch. The FBI contends
         that seven of the nine pieces of information needed to target a
         chemical plant are contained in the Offsite Consequence Analysis
         section of these plans. Yet, several environmental and
         right-to-know interest groups have analyzed the Risk Management
         Plan data and broken it down into even more terrorist-helpful
         chunks, conveniently posted on their websites. Defenders of easy
         access to the information in question say they would not knowingly
         assist terrorists. Perhaps then these groups should reconsider
         posting items such as a list of the top 50 facilities nationwide
         from which a chemical release could potentially kill the most
         people. If that isn't a handy terrorist chemical disaster roadmap,
         what is?
         As a closer reading of my testimony reveals, I thoroughly respect
         and advocate the public's right to know of the industrial dangers
         in their communities. However, there are better ways in which to
         release information about US chemical plants and enable citizen
         monitoring of their activities. Before the August 2000 regulation
         was implemented, citizens could ask any number of questions about
         local chemical sites and their community's disaster response plans
         and capabilities in meetings of their Local Emergency Planning
         Committees. Not only could they learn more from knowledgeable local
         officials and industry representatives than they could from a sheet
         of paper, citizens could voice concerns and recommendations
         directly to local authorities. This approach is far preferable to
         the current regulatory approach that makes it more convenient to
         access this data but also hands terrorists the information they
         need for their malevolent plots on a silver platter.
         Since one can hardly dispute that some terrorist groups are
         determined to harm as many Americans as possible, does convenience
         really outweigh the possible catastrophes that could result from
         Internet and reading room availability of this data? Just as the
         price of better airline security is going to be longer lines at
         airports, so will some reasonable sacrifices have to be made to
         make it more difficult to enable terrorists to use the chemical
         facilities in our midst against us.
         Yes, my testimony urged that the EPA's website and reading rooms be
         permanently closed and that the environmental and right-to-know
         groups pull this information from their websites. If not, I believe
         they are placing at risk the very lives that they desire to
         protect. Should these groups refuse to do so voluntarily, I think
         government has a duty to step in and pursue the removal of JUST the
         Risk Management Plan associated data from the sites concerned. Key
         parts of some scenario information have been scanned and posted on
         the Internet. Only a "covered person"-a government official in most
         cases, or a researcher who has applied for access-is supposed to be
         able to have this type of data outside of the reading rooms. Abuse
         of this special status by disseminating this data constitutes a
         criminal act. People and organizations obviously aren't abiding by
         the law and should be held accountable.
         In sum, the issue is not IF this information should be accessible,
         but HOW easily people should be able to access it. My testimony
         never advocated general censorship or the blanket withholding of
         this information, only a more careful and considered approach to
         its distribution. Accordingly, Mr. Aftergood's characterization of
         my remarks was simplistic, belittling in places, and most
         importantly, incorrect. While I have no doubt that some may
         continue to disagree with my point of view, an accurate
         understanding of my perspective should be a prerequisite for doing
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