2002 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 3 Oct 2002 22:31:14 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Security at APG and elsewhere
Last week (September 26, 2002) Aimée Houghton and I attended a meeting
of the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) Restoration Advisory Board (RAB),
in Maryland. We went there because members of the RAB had expressed
concern that essential environmental data, such as plume maps and the
location of monitoring wells, were no longer being made available to
them. but The discussion raised issues that are likely to arise at
active military facilities, across the country, in this era of
heightened homeland security.

There is no question that APG contains sensitive military facilities and
materiel. In fact, it is one of eight locations in the continental
United States with chemicals weapon stockpiles - in this case bulk
mustard agent - awaiting destruction. I have no reason to believe that
Army officials restricted information for any reason other than
enhancing the security of the installation and the safety of the
surrounding community.

On the other hand, chemicals in the groundwater, such as perchlorate,
are migrating from sites on the base toward local drinking water
production wells, some of which are located on base. Such contamination
has already been detected in off-post production wells. To oversee the
investigation and remediation of the contamination, the public need
accurate information about the location and concentration of the plume
as well as data on the underlying hydrogeology. Indeed, such information
has readily been available in the past. Yet APG security officials
denied current maps to the public, RAB members, and even the community's
technical consultant, whose job it is to review such data in detail.

At the RAB meeting, base officials admitted that some of the withheld
information should not have been restricted. I suspect that in a
last-minute rush to clear a volume of information, security staff with
no environmental expertise erred on the side of caution. This could be
corrected, in the future - and elsewhere - with improved training and
oversight, plus the imposition of schedules requiring environmental
staff and contractors to submit documents earlier for security review.
The APG security official explained that it was his intent to restrict
information on buildings, weapons, and infrastructure, not environmental
data. He also explained that his internal guidance on what to restrict
was itself a sensitive document.

I joined others at the meeting in suggesting that the installation
publish a sanitized list of criteria for what should be in the public
domain, and what should be restricted. Such a list would give RAB
members a way to reverse future mistakes by the security staff, and it
would also facilitate discussion about the grey area of information that
is potentially sensitive but also would be valuable to people concerned
about environmental cleanup.

In most cases, members of the public don't care about the location of
buildings, utility lines, or even roads on the base. And the information
they seek about contamination is of no use to potential evildoers. (It's
hard to imagine a terrorist extracting perchlorate from the ground and
moving it to the drinking water supplies any faster than the Army's
plume is already moving.)

But some items that fit the security office's definition of
infrastructure are environmentally important. For example, the security
team, quite plausibly, believes that maps showing fences would be useful
to people hoping to penetrate base security. But the public often wants
information about fences because they want to keep innocent people out
of dangerous areas, such as those believed to contain unexploded
ordnance. That is, the public wants to know about access controls
because it wants MORE security. Or, as another example, at the base in
my community, Moffett Field, a pump station known affectionately as
Building 191 keeps the runway and other areas dry. It's clearly
infrastructure, but it also directly influences the flow of groundwater,
surface water, and contamination. 

Perhaps most pertinent at APG, there are the production wells
themselves. They are infrastructure; they are vulnerable to tampering;
and their location is already in the public record. Most important,
these are the facilities, on and off post, that the public is most
concerned about. It's difficult to devise a strategy to protect the
wells without knowing their location in relation to the contamination.

The discussion could devolve into a debate between those that believe
the greater threat is from contamination and those who believe that
terrorism is a more likely problem. And to some degree decisions may be
based on a case-by-case evaluation of the relative magnitude of the two threats.

However, there may be a middle ground. When absolutely necessary, it's
possible to display overheads at a meeting without handing out
reproducible documents. It's possible to show the outlines of buildings
without indicating their function. It's possible to show production
wells on maps, along with monitoring wells, without labeling their
function, so only those people involved in the cleanup know which
provide water supplies. It's possible in some cases to show general,
rather than specific locations. That is, there may be a way to give the
public what it needs without compromising security.

Some of the RAB members suggested that the Army label specific hand-outs
as "not for distribution." Some were willing to sign a document saying
they wouldn't make copies. Others, however, were uncomfortable with the
suggestion. They feel that their duty is to make contamination
information available to the community at large.

Another approach is to withhold certain documents from official
environmental web sites. By definition, the World Wide Web is worldwide,
and adversaries anywhere can sit in their offices and glean sensitive
information, on a vast number of facilities, from un-sanitized cleanup
documents. This form of restriction has promise, but someone must
determine which information is truly sensitive for security reasons and
which is primarily of use to environmental advocates.

The debate over security is likely to emerge at many other Defense
facilities. I believe many of the disputes can be finessed by the
negotiation of a national framework on environmental information among
the Defense Department, regulatory agencies, and representatives of the
activist public. Then at facilities where there is information in
question, that framework can be translated into site-specific criteria,
again negotiated by representatives of the installation, regulatory
agencies, and the public.

We can't afford to let terrorists prevent us from protecting public
health, public safety, and the environment, and public oversight is an
essential element of such protection.

Lenny Siegel


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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