Hurricane Katrina and FOI

The poor response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, USA shows in stark terms the consequences of diverting all money to the war on terror while ignoring more prosaic realities at home. America is not unique in diverting funds this way. In the UK, we have seen parts of London stripped bare as police are diverted to fight the war on terror – leaving the city itself vulnerable.

Crying terrorism is now the favourite pasttime of politicians eager to be free from the glare of public accountability. Tony Blair’s refusal to tell the British public where he was spending his summer holiday (and at whose expense) comes to mind. George W Bush trots out the terrorism wail any time he is asked to answer difficult questions.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in the US has released a newly updated edition of its report on the effects of the war on terrorism and the public’s right to know. See RCFP’s ‘Homefront Confidential’.

Reporters in the US are already making the connection between Bush’s intense secrecy and the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The Society of Environmental Journalists has criticised the United States Environmental Protection Agency for its delay in responding to requests about the environmental impacts of Katrina. The group’s report has lessons for all British environmental reporters and campaigners: ‘A Flawed Tool–Environmental Reporters’ experiences With the Freedom of Information Act’.

Another American citizens’ rights group, OMB Watch, has posted an initial compilation of potentially toxic sites in the industrial areas in and around New Orleans that may require remedial action in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Thanks to Steven Aftergood’s Secrecy News for these resources.

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