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Public policy group seeks nuclear records release through FOIA suit

By Jon Campisi | Feb 28, 2014

A public policy research and information group has filed a lawsuit against

the federal government over claims that it has denied its Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information on incidents involving nuclear weapons, nuclear components or radioactive material.

The organization, called Speaking Truth to Power, filed a federal complaint in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Feb. 27 naming as defendants the U.S. Defense Department, U.S. Air Force Combat Command, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff and U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration.

The suit seeks the release of records of events identified as “Bent Spear” or “Dull Sword,” which are incidents the plaintiff maintains are public under Defense Department’s directives.

The plaintiff says its FOIA request, which was submitted on Jan. 20, involve incidents that occurred prior to June 1992 or after October 2007.

The government informed the group it had received the request late last month, records show.

No correspondence, however, has ever been dispatched to the plaintiff, the lawsuit states.

“To date, no records responsive to Plaintiff’s request have been released by ACC, DoE, OSD/JS, or NNSA,” the complaint reads.

In its complaint, Speaking Truth to Power says that it, in conjunction with Global Zero and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, would make the information in the requested documents freely available to “thousands of citizens” through publications and via the Internet.

“Obtaining information about governmental activity, analyzing that information, and widely publishing and disseminating it to the press and the public is a critical component of STTP’s work,” the lawsuit states.

The information sought is public through a December 1993 directive of the Department of Defense called the “Nuclear Accident and Incident Public Affairs Guidance,” the complaint says.

“The stated purpose of the Directive was to ‘update DoD policy, responsibilities, and procedures for the prompt release of information to the public in the interest of public safety, and to prevent public alarm in the event of accidents or significant incidents involving nuclear weapons or nuclear components, radioactive material, nuclear weapon launch or transport vehicles (when a nuclear weapon is aboard), or nuclear reactors under DoD control,’” the complaint reads. “The Directive contained descriptions and definitions of flagwords for use in identifying various events to which the Directive would apply. ‘Bent spear’ and ‘Dull Sword’ were among the flagwords identified in the Directive.”

The plaintiff does concede that the government released records tied to incidents occurring between 1992 and 2007 in a FOIA response unrelated to its group, but it alleges that the response contained no record or account of one “widely-reported” Bent Spear incident that occurred on Aug. 29, 2007, an event disclosed to the public on the Defense Department’s own website in the fall of 2007 titled “Air Force Relieves Commanders Involved in Nuclear Weapons Incident.”

“To date, no records responsive to STTP’s Request has been received from any of the defendants,” the lawsuit states.

In addition to the release of the requested records, the plaintiff seeks to have the defendants enjoined from charging the group search, review or duplication fees for the processing of the request.

It also seeks costs and attorney’s fees.

The suit was filed by Philadelphia attorney Jules Zacher.


The federal case number is 2:14-cv-01181-BMS.

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