Reading Room

Citizens Watch Newsletter November 2003

Activism and the "Patriot Act"

by Stephanie Ericson
from Tri-Valley CAREs November 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Emboldened by a nationwide grassroots campaign against the USA PATRIOT Act, some U.S. Senators and Representatives are sponsoring bills to roll back portions of the law that undermine fundamental civil liberties. While still an uphill struggle, these initiatives come in stark contrast to the overwhelming support for the USA PATRIOT Act when it passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks. At that time, only 66 Representatives and one Senator, Russ Feingold, voted against that legislation. (See the Nov. 2001 Citizen's Watch for details.)

Since then, the law has been severely criticized across the political spectrum for granting the Justice Dept., and the executive branch as a whole, new powers increasing government secrecy and the scope of permissible law enforcement activities while eroding fundamental protections under the Constitution's Bill of Rights in the process.

The most comprehensive challenge in Congress to the 2001 law (whose acronym stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism") came on Sept. 24, 2003, when Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced the bipartisan "Benjamin Franklin True Patriot Act (HR.3171). "Among its original co-sponsors are Bay Area Reps. Pete Stark, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Mike Honda, Lynn Woolsey and Sam Farr, joined later by Anna Eshoo.

"The Benjamin Franklin True Patriot Act seeks to repeal the unconstitutional provisions of the Patriot Act and to protect the First, Fourth Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments," explained Congresswoman Lee.

The proposed law targets roving wiretaps, sneak-and-peak searches of confidential records and secret surveillance of citizens at bookstores, libraries and of political organizations and religious institutions. The bill would also bar the use of the secretive FISA (immigration) court, which has a lower threshold of burden of proof than criminal courts, for obtaining search warrants to investigate citizens. It would repeal sections that allow indefinite detention of immigrants without probable cause, access to legal counsel and judicial review.

The Protecting the Right of Individuals Act (S.1552), introduced in Senate by Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in July, addresses some of these same issues. Subsequently, Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) introduced the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (S.1709) in October, and a companion bill by the same name was presented in the House by Butch Otter (R-ID). A number of other proposed measures also address various aspects of government intrusion since Sept. 11, 2001.

Bob Kearney, Associate Director of the ACLU of Northern California, credits the grassroots efforts to pass local resolutions against the USA PATRIOT Act with spurring this new critical look at the law in Congress. "The resolutions have been an amazing first step," said Kearney. "They have forced Congress to stop and have the debate on the Patriot Act they declined to have when it first passed."

In the Tri-Valley, Save Our Rights (SAVOR) formed in March and has led successful campaigns to pass resolutions in Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton asking Congress to monitor the USA PATRIOT Act and repeal provisions that are unconstitutional. San Ramon passed a similar measure last month. SAVOR supported a measure adopted by Contra Costa County this June and is working with other groups to get similar action in Alameda County. Nationwide, three states and more than 200 cities and counties have passed such resolutions.

SAVOR is now turning its attention to public education and outreach and a petition drive to support the Benjamin Franklin True Patriot Act and other similar proposed legislation.

These bills are presently in committee and may not see action until early next year. It will be an uphill battle for all of them, say advocates. At the same time, two bills that would undermine Constitutional freedoms even further -- the so-called CLEAR Act and the VICTORY Act -- have significant support in Congress. Public pressure, according to activist groups, can play a big role in how Congress decides to act on all of these.

To find out more about attacks on civil liberties, see and To contact SAVOR, phone Bob Cuddy at (925) 443-1980. Or, call Stephanie Ericson, Tri-Valley CAREs' Board Member and liaison to SAVOR, through our office at (925) 443-7148.

Nuclear Weapons Budget Cuts: First Step in a Long Road

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' November 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Many of you made calls and wrote letters to stop the development of new nuclear weapons and constrain the increase in the nuclear weapons budget in 2004. THANK YOU FOR YOUR EFFORTS.

We have some good news. The Energy and Water Appropriations conference committee, on which our CA Senator Dianne Feinstein had a seat, has just concluded its negotiations on the fiscal year 2004 nuclear weapons activities budget. (See page 4 for a related story about the Resource Center for sick workers)

Here are a few highlights. The budget for the "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator," which is currently undergoing design activities at both Livermore and Los Alamos Labs, has just been cut by the conference committee to half of the President?s 2004 request -- from $15 million to $7.5 million.

Funding requested by the Bush Administration to proceed with a new plutonium pit manufacturing facility has been chopped $12 million by the conference committee, a more than 50% cut.

Further, the enhanced nuclear test site readiness funding requested by the Bush Administration was significantly limited in scope by the conference committee to ensure that the preparation time to conduct a full-scale underground nuclear blast would not be lowered to less than two years -- a very important victory.

Funding for the ?advanced concept teams? working on mini-nukes at Livermore and Los Alamos was not cut, but it is being leveraged, with a ?fence? put on most of the money pending the Bush Administration?s completion of a report on the arsenal. The very bad news here is that we lost the ban on the development of mini-nukes, which had been in effect since 1994. (For details, see the May and August 2003 issues of Citizen's Watch.)

In sum, we can celebrate some victory -- under difficult political circumstances, we cut the budgets for two programs. And, we will continue building opposition to new nukes in the coming year. Lift a glass -- wine, fruit juice, water -- to your efforts and to the efforts of your colleagues. Take a moment. Celebrate! Then, recognize the work ahead. These cuts chop off only a small fraction of the budget and do not fundamentally alter the nation?s dangerous nuclear posture. Stay tuned! Stay active!

Major Security Lapses, Rad Accidents

by Tara Dorabji
from Tri-Valley CAREs' Novembe 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch.

It has been revealed recently that Livermore Lab left one of its security gates open (again) and ignored the loss of twelve sets of master keys capable of opening 100,000 locks on site, including classified areas where nuclear materials are stored. Moreover, the Lab was recently fined for one set of radiation safety violations and then proceeded to spew plutonium from a leaky glovebox, contaminating at least one room and the surrounding area. Workers were then allowed to enter the room.

On Oct. 3, a dozen Lab employees were potentially exposed to plutonium that leaked from a glove box known to have a faulty seal, but used nonetheless. The leak occurred after a routine power outage caused the fan responsible for maintaining negative air flow to stop working. Next, the alarm nearest to the leaking glove box failed to sound. However, an alarm positioned outside the door of the room was triggered by the leak. When that alarm went off, it was dismissed as an aberration. Seven plutonium handlers and five Lab security police officers were then allowed to enter the plutonium-contaminated room.

While the Lab maintains that only a "small" amount of plutonium escaped, the security officers were not notified of their potential exposure until nearly a week later. Livermore officials told the media that the initial set of employee lung scans were negative. However, the twelve employees underwent additional testing, and the Lab has yet to disclose the results of subsequent exams (such as urine tests).

This is just one more in a long line of violations at Livermore Lab that have come to light in recent months. On Sept. 11, 2003, the Lab was cited for violating radiation controls. The citation stemmed from an incident in which a chemist attempted to purify a radioactive element without forceps or lead-lined gloves. The lack of safety equipment caused an exposure to the hand that was twice the annual "allowable" dose of radiation. The employee's other hand also received a dose over the annual limit. Livermore Lab was assessed a $137,500 fine. But, since the University of California manages the Lab and is a nonprofit institution -- it is exempt from having to pay the fine.

On Oct. 8, a security gate in close proximity to the Superblock was left open. The Superblock contains nuclear materials, and is authorized to contain enough weapons grade plutonium to make more than 100 modern nuclear bombs. Livermore Lab?s new head of security, David Leary, did not see the open gate as a security risk, "This is not a security incident per se," he told reporters. Earlier this year, one of the Lab's main entrance gates was left open over the July 4th holiday for an unknown amount of time.

A report released this month by the Dept. of Energy's Office of the Inspector General excoriates the Lab for ignoring major security problems. According to the Inspector General, Livermore lost a total of nine master keys and three magnetic master key cards (called Tesa cards) and then compounded the security vulnerabilities by not reporting the losses -- and by not changing the locks to deter unauthorized entrance, including to highly sensitive and classified areas.

Here is one excerpt from the report: "During our review, we learned that during a May 2003 inventory, Livermore officials identified an additional three master keys and two master Tesa cards that were missing. Although two of the three master keys had been reported missing by the Livermore Fire Dept. to the [Lab] Protective Force Division more than three years before, the Protective Force Division took no action..." In this case, Livermore Lab willfully did nothing; in other cases, as the report makes clear, Lab officials did not even know when their keys went missing. According to the Inspector General's report, 100,000 locks in 526 Livermore Lab buildings will have to be replaced to prevent unauthorized access -- at an estimated cost of $1.7 million.

Despite these severe inadequacies, the Lab is poised to construct and operate a biowarfare research facility, which will allow the importation and aerosolization of live strains of anthrax, botulism and plague. Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch have filed a lawsuit to prevent the conduct of advanced bio-war activities at Livermore and Los Alamos without a thorough environmental and nonproliferation analysis and public hearings.

"These new disclosures demonstrate that Livermore Lab officials wantonly disregarded security vulnerabilities and ignored safety measures for radioactive materials," commented Tri-Valley CAREs' Outreach Director, Tara Dorabji. "This makes me all the more certain that the Dept. of Energy's nuclear weapons labs should not be permitted to handle dangerous and deadly pathogens."

Precautionary Principle Wins -- Twice

by Loulena Miles
from Tri-Valley CAREs' November 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Precaution is "a measure taken in advance to avert possible evil or harm." Until now, environmental harms have gained recognition only after their effects have become nearly catastrophic. Often the harms were not fully characterized, such as happened for years with asbestos, lead and DDT. This is also true of the radioactive tritium and plutonium that are prevalent around the site of the Livermore Lab.

While too little is understood about the health effects of individual pollutants on humans, even less is known about how these substances can affect health when added together or combined. As a measure to avert possible harm, governments should take into account a substance's cumulative and synergistic effects-- and err, if err they must, on the side of caution when evaluating difficult to quantify risk levels. Governments should seek safer alternatives where adverse health impacts may exist. And, governments should encourage public discourse on health issues.

The Bay Area Working Group on the Precautionary Principle, a group composed of advocates of public health, environmental health, environmental justice and the breast cancer movement, has long been working toward adoption of this policy in local governments. Two California cities are taking the lead in recognizing the wisdom of using the Precautionary Principle when making decisions that could significantly impact public health and the environment.

In June, the San Francisco Supervisors voted to adopt the Precautionary Principle as a city policy, thus becoming the first city in this country to mandate precaution, although the principle is already prevalent in Europe. In Oct., the Berkeley City Council followed suit, adopting the Precautionary Principle as official city policy.

The city-adopted policies will effect change on a very basic level, such as requiring the creation of an environmentally friendly purchasing plan so the city will buy nontoxic, noncarcinogenic supplies. The principle forces government to reframe how it considers decisions affecting human health and the environment. Instead of defining an "unsafe level" of a chemical, the decision will involve a consideration of less harmful alternatives. Berkeley?s implementation will build upon the $250 thousand that San Francisco spent to study alternative products.

For a copy of the Precautionary Principle and other materials, call or come by our office.

Sick and Dying Lab Workers to Get Aid

by Inga Olson and Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs November 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

More than a year of advocacy has just paid off with an important victory. The Energy and Water Appropriations conference committee concluded its negotiations in mid-November and sent out a final bill ? directing the Dept. of Energy (DOE) to establish a permanent Employee Field Resource Center in the Bay Area within 120 days of enactment.

The Resource Center will assist current and former workers at Livermore Lab and other DOE and contractor sites who have been made ill by on the job exposures to radiation, beryllium and other hazardous contaminants. Specifically, the Center will help them file for compensation under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act.

The Act, passed in 2000, provides for payment of up to $150,000 to eligible, exposed nuclear workers or their surviving family members. Many sick workers, however, have found high hurdles rather than compensation when they have sought to file claims. The application process can be daunting and laborious, and the needed records hard to come by.

?Sick workers deserve a local, permanent Resource Center instead of a phone number that rings in another state,? Inga Olson, Tri-Valley CAREs? Program Director told reporters. ?Many of the Livermore Lab employees and their family members with whom I work are having trouble with their claims. Often they need the kind of help a Resource Center can offer, such as making the DOE bureaucracy cough up necessary records.?

Inga facilitates a support group for sick workers that has met regularly for more than a year. They brought the issue to the attention of Congress.

Two Members of Congress played key roles in making the Resource Center a funded reality, Rep. Ellen Tauscher and Senator Dianne Feinstein, who sat on the conference committee.

In the coming months, it will be important that sick workers and the community have a voice in the siting and staffing of the new Resource Center. The DOE has breached its most basic trust with employees -- by exposing them to hazardous materials and by retaliating against whistleblowers and others who have attempted to correct problems. It will take time and genuine, long-term effort on the part of both the Energy and Labor Departments to rebuild trust.

Still, this is an historic day ? for it moves us one step closer to justice for sick workers and their families.

Print Bites

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs November 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

  • Livermore wants to create first mobile battle laser. Recently, Lab scientists invited an Army general over to watch their solid-state laser penetrate an inch of steel in two seconds. Now Maj. General John Urias and Livermore scientists are trying to attract $150 million to develop the laser into a killing machine that can sit atop a Humvee. Lab officials are predicting that they can ?ruggedize? the laser to withstand potholes and will deliver it as a complete weapon system 18 months after funding arrives.

  • DOE finds allies to subvert open meeting law. Tri-Valley CAREs and the Natural Resources Defense Council successfully sued the Dept. of Energy?s National Ignition Facility ?rebaseline? committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act for bias, conflict of interest and holding secret meetings in order to bless the ailing, over budget NIF mega-laser. In response, DOE began to lobby its friends in Congress for a little relief from having to comply with law. Lo and behold, the just released Defense Authorization conference committee bill, with the stroke of a pen, declares that DOE?s use of its contact employees (including Livermore Lab staff) will not trigger FACA as the Judge had ordered. FACA is the country?s most basic government openness law. Both science and the taxpaying public will be the poorer for this action.

    Back to Citizen's Watch Index