Heads of eleven news associations sent a letter to members of Congress, July 10, urging them to reject sections of the Homeland Security Act, stating they are “ripe for misuse and abuse.” Section 204 gives exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that “would severely compromise public health and safety, not to mention the public’s right to know.”

The grouping said the exemption is unnecessary as there are already national security safeguards in place under FOIA. Another concern, they wrote, is Section 730, which would give the Secretary of Homeland Security the “discretion to waive numerous civil service privileges,” including the Whistleblower Protection Act.

The Bush administration has been widely criticized as being one of the most secretive administrations ever. Vice President Dick Cheney invoked executive privilege to prevent Congress from seeing any records regarding his national energy commission, on which Enron CEO Ken Lay sat.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was angered by a number of leaks to the media, including the July 12 report published by The New York Times, on the plans to invade Iraq. In a CNBC television interview July 15, Rumsfeld said he would “dearly like to find” the people who leaked the document.

“They ought to be imprisoned,” he threatened. “And if we find out who they are, they will be imprisoned.” Rumsfeld and the Pentagon were roundly criticized for proposing the Office of Strategic Influence which had a stated mission of planting lies in the media.

One of the sub-texts of the letter is the view that the Bush administration has close-knit relations with many monopoly corporations rife with fraud and scandal, and the exemptions would be utilized to cover up wrong-doing by these private concerns and the Bush administration.

The letter quotes Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who acknowledged that “[t]here are concerns that the exemptions granted [in S-1456] might give the companies a ground for withholding some of the information that otherwise would be public.”

“We must not provide inadvertent safe harbors for those who violate health and safety statutes,” Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) added.

The letter was signed by the Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, College Media Advisers, Criminal Justice Journalists, Government Accountability Project, Journalism Education Association, National Newspaper Association, Newspaper Association of America, Radio-Television News Directors Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Society of Environmental Journalists.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org