Project Censored at Sonoma State University announces the annual release of the most important under-covered stories of 2004-05. For full postings see:

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Common Dreams, September 14, 2004, New Report Details Bush
Administration Secrecy, by Karen Lightfoot>

The Bush administration has been working to make sure the public - and even Congress - can't find out what the government itself is doing.

In the Fall of 2004, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) released an 81-page report that found that the feds have consistently "narrowed the scope and application" of the Freedom of Information Act, the Presidential Records Act, and other key public information laws. At the same time the government expanded laws blocking access to certain records - even creating new categories of "protected" information and exempting entire departments from public scrutiny.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives citizens the ability to file a request for specific information from a government agency and provides recourse in federal court if that agency fails to comply with FOIA requirements. Over the last two decades, beginning with Reagan, this law has become increasingly diluted and circumvented by each succeeding administration.

Under the Bush Administration, agencies make extensive and arbitrary use of FOIA exemptions such as those for classified information, privileged attorney-client documents and certain information compiled for law enforcement purposes.

Bush administration has even refused to release records to Congressional subcommittees or the Government Accountability Office. A few of the potentially incriminating documents being held secret from Congress include records of contacts between large energy companies and Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force; White House memos pertaining to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction; and reports describing torture at Abu Ghraib.

The Critical Infrastructure Information Act of 2002 (CIIA) as part of Homeland Security exempts from FOIA any information that is voluntarily provided to the federal government by a private party, if the information relates to the security of vital infrastructure. But under the act, even "routine communications by private sector lobbyists can be withheld from disclosure 8A if the lobbyist asserts that the changes are related to the effort to protect the nation's infrastructure. Such a broad interpretation of CIIA could hide errors or misconduct by private-sector companies working with the Department of Homeland Security.

In March 2002, the Bush Administration reduced public access to information through FOIA by mandating that agencies safeguard any records having to do with "weapons of mass destruction." This included "information that could be misused to harm the security of our nation and the safety of our people," according to a memo by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. However, the memo did nothing to define these terms and agencies were left free to withhold virtually any information under the vague charge of "national security."

In 2003, the Bush Administration won a new legislative exemption from FOIA for all National Security Agency "operational files." The Administration's main rationale for this new exemption is that conducting FOIA searches diverts resources from the agency's mission.

Congressman Waxman describe the government secrecy moves as "an unprecedented assault on the laws that make our government open and accountable,"


Information Management Journal, Mar/Apr 2004, PATRIOT Act's Reach Expanded Despite Part Being Struck Down" by Nikki Swartz
LiP Magazine, Winter 2004, Grave New World", Anna Samson Miranda (former Project Censored Student)
Capitol Hill Blue, June 7, 2004, Where Big Brother Snoops on Americans 24/7, By Teresa Hampton and Doug Thompson

On the day American troops captured Saddam Hussein Bush signed into law the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) - a controversial expansion of the PATRIOT Act that included items culled from the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003," a draft proposal that had been shelved due to public outcry after being leaked.

Specifically, the IAA allows the government to obtain an individual's financial records without a court order. The law also makes it illegal for institutions to inform anyone that the government has requested those records, or that information has been shared with the authorities.

"The law also broadens the definition of 'financial institution' to include insurance companies, travel and real-estate agencies, stockbrokers, the U.S. Postal Service, jewelry stores, casinos, airlines, car dealerships, and any other business 'whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters. The definition is now so broad that it could plausibly be used to access even school transcripts or medical records.

"In one fell swoop, this act has decimated our rights to privacy, due process, and freedom of speech," wrote Anna Samson Miranda in an article for LiP magazine titled "Grave New World" that documented the ways in which the government already employs high tech, private industry, and everyday citizens as part of a vast web of surveillance.

In November 2002, the New York Times reported that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was developing a tracking system called "Total Information Awareness" (TIA), which was intended to detect terrorists through analyzing troves of information. The system, developed under the direction of John Poindexter, then-director of DARPA's Information Awareness Office, was envisioned to give law enforcement access to private data without suspicion of wrongdoing or a warrant.

Congress passed a Defense Appropriations bill passed unanimously on July 18, 2003, expressly denying any funding to Total Information Awareness research. In response, the Pentagon proposed The Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange. MATRIX, as devised by the Pentagon, is a State run information generating tool, thereby circumventing congress' concern regarding the appropriation of federal funds for the development of this controversial database.

The MATRIX program was officially shut down on April 15, 2005 but the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security are now utilizing a system called FACTS (Factual Analysis Criminal Threat Solution). According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, "Between July 2003 and April 2005, there have been 1,866,202 queries
to the FACTS application. Florida law enforcement officials are pursuing continuing the program and rebuilding it.

On May 10, 2005, President Bush secretly signed into law the REAL ID Act, requiring states within the next three years to issue federally approved electronic identification cards. Attached as an amendment to an emergency spending bill funding troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the REAL ID Act passed without the scrutiny and debate of Congress.  Inability to conform over the next three years will leave citizens and residents of the United States paralyzed. Identification cards that do not meet the federally mandated standards will not be accepted as identification for travel, opening a bank account, receiving social security checks, or participating in government benefits.


Harper's Magazine, December 2004, The UN is Us: Exposing Saddam
Hussein's silent partner, by Joy Gordon

Independent/UK, December 12, 2004, The oil for Food 'Scandal' is a
Cynical Smokescreen, by Scott Ritter and

Last year, right-wingers in Congress began kicking up a fuss about how the United Nations had allegedly allowed Saddam Hussein to rake in $10 billion in illegal cash through the Oil for Food program.
Headlines screamed scandal. New York Times' columnist William Safire referred to the alleged U.N. con game as "the richest rip-off in world history."

There is plenty of evidence of corruption in the "oil-for-food" program, but the trail of evidence leads not to the UN but to the U.S. "The fifteen members of the Security Council-of which the United States was by far the most influential-determined how income from oil proceeds would be handled, and how the funds could be used.

The initial anti-UN accusations were based on a General Accounting Office report released in April 2004 and were later bolstered by a more detailed report commissioned by the CIA. According to the GAO, Hussein smuggled $6 billion worth of oil out of Iraq - most of it through the Persian Gulf. Yet the U.N. fleet charged with intercepting any such smugglers was under direct command of American officers, and consisted overwhelmingly of U.S. Navy ships. In 2001, for example, 90 of its vessels belonged to the United States, while Britain contributed only four.

Most of the oil that left Iraq by land did so through Jordan and Turkey - with the approval of the United States. The first Bush administration informally exempted Jordan from the ban on purchasing Iraqi oil - an arrangement that provided Hussein with $4.4 billion over 10 years, according to the CIA's own findings. The United States later allowed Iraq to leak another $710 million worth of oil through Turkey - all while U.S. planes enforcing no-fly zones flew overhead.

Scott Ritter, a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq during the first six years of economic sanctions against the country, unearthed yet another scam: The United States allegedly allowed an oil company run by Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov's sister to purchase cheap oil from Iraq and resell it to U.S. companies at market value.  "It has been estimated that 80 percent of the oil illegally smuggled out of Iraq under 'oil for food' ended up in the United States,"  Ritter wrote in the U.K. Independent.

Little of the blame can credibly be laid at the feet of 'the UN bureaucracy.' Far more of the fault lies with policies and decisions of the Security Council in which the United States played a central role.

Military Threatens Journalists, Steve Weissman,

InterPress Service, November 18, 2004, Media Repression in
'Liberated' Land, by Dahr Jamail,

The Iraq war has been the deadliest combat zone for reporters since the International Federation of Journalists began keeping tabs in 1984. A total of 49 media workers have lost their lives in Iraq.  In short, nonembedded journalists have now become familiar victims of U.S. military actions abroad. "As far as anyone has yet proved, no commanding officer ever ordered a subordinate to fire on journalists as such," write Steve Weissman. But what can be shown is a pattern of tacit complicity, side by side with a heavy-handed campaign to curb journalists' right to roam freely.

According to independent journalist Dahr Jamail, journalists are increasingly being detained and threatened by the U.S.-installed interim government in Iraq. When the only safety for a reporter is being embedded with the U.S. military, the reported stories tend to have a positive spin. Non-embedded reporters suffer the great risk of being identified as enemy targets by the military.  The Pentagon has refused to implement basic safeguards to protect journalists who aren't embedded with coalition forces, despite repeated requests by Reuters and media advocacy organizations.

The most blatant attack on journalists occurred the morning of April 8, 2004, when the Third Infantry fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad killing cameramen Jose Couso and Taras Protsyuk and injuring three others. The hotel served as headquarters for some 100 reporters and other media workers. The Pentagon officials knew that the Palestine Hotel was full of journalists and had assured the Associated Press that the U.S. would not target the building. The U.S. military exonerated the army of any wrongdoing in its attack on the Palestine Hotel. To date, U.S. authorities have not disciplined a single officer or soldier involved in the killing of a journalist.

Unsatisfied with the U.S. military's investigation, Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that works to improve the legal and physical safety of journalists worldwide, conducted their own investigation. They gathered evidence from journalists in the Palestine Hotel at the time of the attacks. Their report stated that the U.S. officials first lied about what had happened during the Palestine Hotel attack and then, in an official statement four months later, exonerated the U.S. Army from any mistake of error in judgment. Olga Rodriguez, a journalist present at the Palestine Hotel during the attack, stated on KPFA's Democracy Now! that the soldiers and tanks were present at the hotel 36 hours before the firing and that reporters had even communicated with the soldiers.

April 8, 2004: The same day of the attack on the Palestine Hotel, the U.S. bombed the Baghdad offices of Abu Dhabi TV and Al-Jazeera killing Al-Jazeera correspondent Tariq Ayyoub. August 17, 2004: Mazen Dana was killed while filming a prison, guarded by the U.S. military in a Baghdad suburb.

As a matter of military doctrine, the U.S. military dominates, at all costs, every element of battle, including our perception of what they do. The need for control leads the Pentagon to urge journalists to
embed themselves within the military, where they can go where they are told and film and tell stories only from a pro-American point of view. The Pentagon offers embedded journalists a great deal of protection. As the Pentagon sees it, non-embedded eyes and ears do not have any military significance, and unless Congress and the American people stop them, the military will continue to target
independent journalists.

Grain, October 2004, Iraq's new Patent Law: a declaration of war against farmers, October 26, 2004, Adventure Capitalism, by Greg Palast
The Ecologist, February 4, 2005, U.S. Seeking to Totally Re-engineer
Iraqi traditional farming system into a U.S. style corporate agribusiness, by Jeremy Smith

Historians believe it was in the "fertile crescent" of Mesopotamia, where Iraq now lies, that  humans first learned to farm. "It is here, in around 8500 or 8000 B.C., that mankind first domesticated wheat, here that agriculture was born," wrote Jeremy Smith in the Ecologist. This entire time, "Iraqi farmers have been naturally selecting wheat varieties that work best with their climate ... and cross-pollinated them with others with different strengths.

"The U.S., however, has decided that, despite 10,000 years practice, Iraqis don't know what wheat works best in their own conditions," write Jeremy Smith. Smith was referring to Order 81, one of 100 directives penned by L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, and left as a legacy by the American government when it transferred operations to interim Iraqi authorities.

The regulation sets criteria for the patenting of seeds that can only be met by multinational companies like Monsanto or Syngenta, and it grants the patent holder exclusive rights over every aspect of all plant products yielded by those seeds. Because of naturally occurring cross-pollination, the new scheme effectively launches a process whereby Iraqi farmers will soon have to purchase their seeds rather than using seeds saved from their own crops or bought at the local market.

Native varieties will be replaced by foreign - and genetically engineered - seeds, and Iraqi agriculture will become more vulnerable to disease as biological diversity is lost.

Texas A&M University, which brags that its agriculture program is a "world leader" in the use of biotechnology, has already embarked on a $107 million project to "re-educate" Iraqi farmers to grow industrial-sized harvests, for export, using American seeds. As part of the project Iraqi farmers are given equipment and genetically modified seeds. And anyone who's ever paid attention to how this has worked elsewhere in the global South knows what comes next: Farmers will lose their lands, and the country will lose its ability to feed itself, engendering poverty and dependency.

Order 81 was one of several imposed by Bremer that fit nicely into the outlines of a U.S. "Economy Plan," a 101-page blueprint for the economic makeover of Iraq, formulated with ample help from corporate lobbyists.

Greg Palast reported that someone inside the State Department leaked the plan to him a month prior to the invasion. One of the goals of the plan is to impose intellectual property laws in Iraq favorable to multinational corporations.

Smith put it simply: "The people whose forefathers first mastered the domestication of wheat will now have to pay for the privilege of growing it for someone else. And with that the world's oldest farming heritage will become just another subsidiary link in the vast American supply chain."