Partners Push Back Against DOD Effort to Keep Camp LeJeune Water Contamination Info Secret

Recently, OpenTheGovernment.org, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and several partners joined to press the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to come clean about water contamination at the U.S. Marine Corps base, Camp Lejeune—where Marines, civilians, and their families were poisoned by the water they used and drank, but have yet to see justice after years of secrecy. Their plight was recently featured in the Academy Awards short-listed film, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, which documents the catastrophic effects of the contamination and resulting cover-up.

The letters refer to the Department of Navy's successful use of highly questionable legal justification to pressure the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to heavily redact a report about the contamination before releasing it to the public. Interestingly, the Navy made no reference to a provision recently signed into law that requires the Secretary of Defense to weigh the public interest in releasing critical infrastructure security information. We urge all parties to make public the unredacted report and relevant underlying information to the fullest extent required or permitted under law as soon as possible.

DOD appears to be ramping up its efforts to convince other agencies to keep DOD's dirty secrets. According to investigative work by POGO, the Navy has begun stamping "For Official Use Only" on Camp Lejeune water contamination-related documents. "For Official Use Only" is one of the many confusing and meaningless markings the Obama Administration did away with in the Executive Order on Controlled Unclassified Information. As Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, explained, "'For Official Use Only' is a marking that has no legitimacy, as there is no statute authorizing it, or authorizing a regulation." She continued, "When agencies such as the Department of Defense use it to bully or intimidate others into withholding information, it is not binding on anyone — including any other government entity.”

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