No FOIA allowed! Look out for BARDA, a new, top secret gov’t agency.

Silja J.A. Talvi

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA) is about to become the the first-ever government agency not obligated to provide any disclosure whatsoever to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Senate Bill 1873, which is moving quickly through congress and would appropriate $1 BILLION in 2006 alone, includes the following statement that has raised alarm: “Information that relates to the activities, working groups, and advisory boards of the BARDA shall not be subject to disclosure under section 552 of title 5, United States Code [i.e. the FOIA], unless the Secretary or Director determines that such disclosure would pose no threat to national security." As the Society of Professional Journalists points out, exemptions already exist for high-level national security information where FOIA requests are concerned. Co-sponsored by Senator Richard Burr and Majority Leader Bill Frist, the bill has passed through committee and now awaits action from the full Senate. Ostensibly, the purpose of the agency is to encourage private industry to produce countermeasures for bioterrorism agents and natural outbreaks. How can we, as citizens and journalists, have no right to know what this agency would be up to, using this much of our money? It would be a first in our modern history, and an ominous first, at that. For more information, check out the Center for Arms Control and Nuclear Non-Proliferation.

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Silja J.A. Talvi, a senior editor at In These Times, is an investigative journalist and essayist with credits in many dozens of newspapers and magazines nationwide, including The Nation, Salon, Santa Fe Reporter, Utne, and the Christian Science Monitor.
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