The days of standing behind your nation may be behind the times. In this new era radicals bolstered by their own sense of self-importance consider their cause more significant than national security.
Take as an example the Greenpeace plan to post a color map on the Internet showing how a terrorist attack on the Kuehne Chemical Company bleach plant could unleash a lethal cloud of chlorine vapor over New York City and in the process kill hundreds of thousands and damage the lungs of millions.
According to the self-appointed apostles of public safety, such information is less risky than the present production techniques. But as Peter Kuehne, Jr. notes, environmentalists might as well paint a bull's eye on his facility. C.J. Howlett, Jr., executive director of the Chlorine Chemistry Council, says efforts to publish restricted data aren't "the way an adult would deal with a national security challenge." Alas, he may not be dealing with adults.
Greenpeace contends that it is trying to prevent an industrial accident in which lethal hazardous materials are released. The organization concedes that its effort could identify terrorist targets, but that is a trade-off worth making. Yet it should be clear, but apparently isn't, that there is a dramatic difference between an accident and a deliberate effort to kill people.
In the former case, steps can be and are being taken to negate safety flaws, but in the latter instance, safety flaws serve as an invitation for terrorists' activity. Needless to say, in the case of volatile material safety cannot be foolproof. It is also instructive that sensitive information once publicized is almost impossible to eradicate. The government's censorship since September 11 doesn't affect private groups that came by their information legally before that date.
Environmental activists such as Greenpeace have collected information from the Environmental Protection Agency on potential catastrophic chemical releases at 15,000 industrial sites. These groups contend that such information might forestall the toxic cloud that killed about 4,000 people in Bhopal, India, which was prompted by a leak from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in 1984.
Rick Hind, legislative director of the Greenpeace Toxins Campaign, argues that the terrorist concern is "a smoke screen" to discredit right-to- know groups. But, after all, what does the public have a right to know? And if a right-to-know principle is unfettered by common sense or the public welfare, it may be that thousands of lives will unnecessarily be put in jeopardy.
Admittedly chlorine poses grave threats since it is a highly reactive chemical, a condition the government recognizes. But it is also a cost-effective disinfectant and is used in fire resistant protective gear and even drugs, including the anthrax antibiotic, Cipro.
Obviously every precaution should be taken in chlorine's storage, but the environmental effort to force chemical companies into finding substitutes for chlorine is probably not realistic at this time. The EPA has established guidelines and requirements for safe storage technology and for the assessment of vulnerability to criminal attack, albeit that won't satisfy the folks at Greenpeace.
It is not likely any modification in present policy will satisfy Greenpeace, except for the adoption of all the reforms it proposes. What some groups overlook is that this nation is at war with an elusive foe intent on causing terror and destruction. In these times the right-to-know must be altered to account for the precarious state of security. To suggest anything else is either deliberately myopic or painfully stupid.
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