In 1822, 144 years before the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, James Madison described the importance of citizen access to information:
A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
Many of Freedoms exposes through the years have been based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Recent events, described in this article, furnish an example of the Freedom of Information Act in action.
Late last year, when Congress approved $1 million for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a public health study of zinc cadmium sulfide, the power and necessity of the Freedom of Information Act was again demonstrated.
The cancer-producing compound zinc cadmium sulfide was used in 300 open-air chemical and biological warfare tests in hundreds of American cities during the 1950s and 1960s.
The long trail to uncover the tests and the effects of the compound began in the 1970s when the Church of Scientology and Freedom began to systematically investigate and expose harmful chemical and biological warfare experiments and inherent human rights violations. Their tool was the Freedom of Information Act.
Freedom published a series of articles in the 1970s and 1980s about the testing, based on analyses of the documents obtained under the FOIA.*
Renewed public interest in the experiments was sparked in late 1993 when Department of Energy Secretary Hazel OLeary unsealed the departments massive files on secret government radiation tests. The resulting stream of horror stories about innocent men, women and children victimized in radiation tests shocked the nation.
As Congress began a series of hearings on the secret tests, Church of Scientology spokesperson Sylvia Stanard reminded congressional investigators of the similar plight of the unwitting victims of chemical and biological warfare.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the Church analyzed documents it was obtaining under the Freedom of Information Act, the findings were widely reported by the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and many others.
In 1994, against the background of the radiation testing controversy, news media again covered the zinc cadmium sulfide experiments. KCTA television in Minneapolis broadcast an investigative series on tests in which zinc cadmium sulfide had been released repeatedly over that city. The series, which used documents obtained by the Church, included interviews with victims who had been stricken with strange and unexplained illnesses following the tests.
Responding to the public concern regarding secret Army sprayings, U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and U.S. Representative Martin Olav Sabo, both of Minnesota, ensured special legislation was included in the Defense Appropriations bill for fiscal year 1995.
Following passage of the bill, the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Toxicology established a special subcommittee to conduct the review. Subcommittee chairman Dr. Regene Henderson told Freedom that her subcommittee will be looking at every city in which the Army conducted tests. They will also be conducting public hearings in some of these cities. An interim report will be published this year, with a final report scheduled for late 1996 or early 1997.
Stanard told media that Although U.S. citizens deserve to know about actions of our government which may have adversely affected their health, without the Freedom of Information Act, records of these tests would never have seen the light of day.
*Chemical Warfare Tests Exposed in Texas, Freedom, Issue 54, 1980.