Whose Security?

Local firms get in on the Homeland Act.

Microsoft, Boeing, and Seattle law firm Preston Gates & Ellis are among the usual suspects rounded up in a new Common Cause Follow the Dollar report on how corporations really benefit from the Homeland Security Act. Ironically, Section 214 of the act actually makes it harder to warn Americans about industrial health, safety, and environmental problems, says Common Cause, the D.C.based watchdog. Passed with little public scrutiny in 2002 and intended to fight terrorism, the section effectively shields corporate wrongdoers from civil liability and government enforcement. It also puts new limits on citizen use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Those seeking information on hazards posed by chemical and nuclear plants,for example, can be rebuffed by claims of national security.

Common Cause president Chellie Pingree calls the lobbying and political donations that helped birth the law a textbook example of special-interest legislation. The study determined that three major business coalitions were instrumental in arm-twisting Congress to pass the act, and that members of the coalitions contributed $112 million to mostly Republican candidates and parties from 1998 through June 2002. One of the coalitions, Americans for Computer Privacy, is headed by Bruce Heiman, a partner in Preston Gates, whose D.C. office is one of the nations top lobbying firms (a hive of fix-and-favor activity in the classic Beltway style, as National Review called it). Microsoft, a Preston Gates client and member of ACP, was among corporations pushing hard for passage of Section 214. ACP and the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, whose membership includes Boeing, actually were lobbying to shield records from disclosure before 9/11. The NSTAC in a June 2001 letter to President Bush, complained of such business barriers as the FOIA and civil liabilities.

Two weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, Bush announced support for a narrowly drafted exception to disclosure requirements. The corporations used that support and terrorism fever to push Section 214 through Congress, burying it in homeland security, complains Charles Davis, FOIA Center director. A new effort is now afoot in Congress, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), to undo the section.


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