Web Chat: Government information abounds after legislation

Since 1996, the Freedom of Information Act has been the friend of journalists and citizens concerned that programs run secretly by the U.S. government have made accountability a hard thing to track.

Over the years, the act has led to revelations about how taxpayer money is used and misused, and what programs have been run secretly, sometimes right under the nose of the electorate.

While this was the initial purpose of the act, to reveal information previously inaccessible, the FOIA has had some interesting side effects.

Anyone with enough curiosity and a few dollars can request information from the government (www.rama-usa.org/foia.htm), and in most cases, other than classified information, the agency has to comply with the request.

Conspiracy buffs have taken full advantage of this relatively new access. The number of Web pages that have popped up on the Internet that use government documents to explain the inexplicable, is staggering. UFOs, the JFK assassination, Sasquatch - it's all there, and it's all crazy.

For a government that used to be relatively low key about these things, they too have jumped into the Internet information wave both feet first. Perhaps they want to set the record straight in a medium where accuracy is not always a high priority.

One of the best sites is the Department of Justice Unusual Phenomena Listing at foia.fbi.gov/unusual.htm.

There are listings for animal/cattle mutilation, Majestic 12 (the FBI investigation into the "leaking" of a bogus top secret document), Project Blue Book (A military UFO investigation), Roswell and UFOs (1,600 pages).

The government lingo can be overwhelming, but it is interesting to know that this is the type of thing our government spends time, effort and money dealing with.

In 1980, the National Security Agency, -one of our lesser-known, heavily funded intelligence arms - released information about UFO investigations that it has done. Some of that information in its original format is available on the Web at nsa.gov/docs/efoia/released/ufo.html.

Most of the revealed documents record UFO sightings, but blame them on less mysterious phenomena, such as weather balloons. News articles pulled from publications like the New York Times and the National Enquirer, give some outside interpretation of these sometimes controversial findings.

Curiosity about the Central Intelligence Agency (www.foia.ucia.gov) will never subside. From its suspected wrongdoing in the Vietnam war, to the drug war in Reagan-era Colombia.

Among the curiosities on the CIA site are sections titled "UFOs: Fact or Fiction?" and "Atomic Spies: Ethel and Julius Rosenburg." For historians with a distaste for revisionism, read the governments self-evaluation of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and learn why Fidel Castro is still in power.

Columbia University has done great strides for the cause of freedom of speech with a Web site that acts as a directory to the United States intelligence community at www.columbia.edu/cu/libraries/indiv/dsc/intell.html. Declassified documents are easy to find through links on this page.

Questions?Ideas? E-mail at jimscripps@Tahoe.com


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