Disclaimer: As of 1 February 2008, the Sunshine Project is suspending its operations. Although this website is no longer updated, it remains online as an archive of our activities and publications from 2000 through 2008. If you have any questions, please contact us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your interest.
About the Sunshine Project and Freedom of Information Requests
The Sunshine Project makes extensive use of open records law in its research and publications. Our requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and related federal and state laws have, in several instances, documented disturbing research on biological and chemical weapons. These cases are discussed in publications available on this website.
Many government documents obtained under FOIA are made available here in their original form. For example, we maintain a unique online collection of government (and other) documents on "non-lethal" biochemical weapons.
Uncovering and distributing new information and analysis on government programs is the primary purpose of Sunshine Project FOIA requests. Another important aspect is in asserting and maintaining the public's right to this information, particularly in the present climate of secrecy.
Nationally, very few organizations actively file FOIA requests on biological and chemical weapons issues. Some government agencies attempt to conceal potentially controversial materials by exaggerating exemptions - trying to keep secrets that they are not legally entitled to maintain. This unwarranted secrecy is detrimental to biological weapons control and makes our job more difficult.
1. THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES OF SCIENCE (NAS)
deposited in the Public Access Records File, related to "non-lethal"
Filed: 12 March 2002
Time elapsed since filing: 3656 days
NAS must obey FACA, a law that says that when NAS does a study for the government, documents that are deposited in the Public Access Records File are public. That's at least what the law says...
We requested dozens of public documents about "non-lethal" weapons. We started getting them. Some enthusiastically endorsed illegal chemical and biological weapons. Then, a Marine Corps Colonel sent a letter to NAS with an illegal "order" for It to stop sending us the papers. NAS knows who butters its bread. Violating federal law, it stopped releasing documents. Since mid-2002, NAS has ignored all queries about the issue. Our request remains standing.
2. DEFENSE ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS AGENCY (DARPA)
Biological Weapons Proposals from Scientists
Filed: March 15, 2002
Time elapsed since filing: 3653 days
In late 2001, DARPA asked for research abstracts for the "Scientists Helping America" conference. One of the topics was the US Special Force's "Future Concept Working Group Concept #247". Concept #247 describes offensive anti-material biological weapons that could be used by US units. DARPA told the scientists not to submit proprietary information.
We asked for the Concept #247 proposals and others in March 2002. We still haven't got them. This seems to be a case of DARPA forgetting that bioweapons are illegal. Release of these 375 pages of abstracts might prove to be very embarrassing.
3. OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE / JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
to Use RCAs Under Executive Order 11850
Filed: October 2, 2002
Time elapsed since filing: 3452 days
In 2002, as the US fought in Afghanistan and prepared to invade Iraq, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld publicly complained about the Chemical Weapons Convention. Calling it a "straightjacket", he said the US wanted looser restrictions on military use of 'riot control agents' (defined idiosyncratically). The comments drew howls of protest.
According to President Gerald Ford's Executive Order 11850 and Joint Chiefs of Staff Instructions, in almost all situations authorization by the President or the Secretary of Defense must be made before US troops can use chemicals. We requested any authorizations since September 11th, 2001. We have yet to receive a reply.
4. US NAVY/US MARINE CORPS
FOIA: A videotape of tests of UAVs equipped to deliver chemical payloads
Filed: 9 January 2003
Time elapsed since filing: 3353 days
In the late 90s, the US toyed with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver chemical agents. In 2003, we asked the US Navy for two videotapes of UAV tests conducted for the "non-lethal" weapons program in about 1997.
Our request uncorked a "pass-the-buck" extravaganza through no less than five different commands. Each got one tape or the other and then passed the request on to somebody else. After some hard bureaucratic slogging, we got one of the tapes. We were eventually forced to file another FOIA request for the other tape with the last FOIA office that was supposed to have received it. The Marines' Warfighting Lab replied that they didn't have it, although it was sent to their office for FOIA processing! It must be an interesting tape! And we still want it.
5. UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MEDICAL BRANCH,
FOIA: Minutes of Institutional Biosafety Committee Meetings
Filed: February 27, 2003
Time elapsed since filing: 304 days
In February 2003, we requested minutes from meetings of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC). UTMB, an operator of BSL-4 facilities, chose to fight the request. It argued that a state patient privacy law that exempted the minutes of "medical committees" from disclosure trumped federal guidelines that required release the minutes. Nevermind that there is no information about patients in the minutes, because they aren't about medical care. They are about biosafety. Despite support from the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and the ACLU of Texas, we lost the state ruling.
We appealed to the feds, whose rules say that if UTMB doesn't release the minutes, then the school loses grant money. In came the National Institute of Health's Office of Biotechnology Activities (OBA). Faced with blatant violation of its guidelines, OBA blew some wet kisses to UTMB's biodefense bug jockeys and spanked them with a soggy linguini for good measure. While UTMB now has public IBC minutes, all of them from before 2004 remain secret - despite federal "rules" that "require" UTMB to release the documents. We still want them. We asked again and UTMB still won't give them up. OBA promised (in writing) a report on its "investigation"; but never provided one.
6. UK MINISTRY OF DEFENCE/US MARINE CORPS
FOIA: Report of a
US/UK Joint Military Seminar on "Non-Lethal" Weapons Policy,
Filed: January 4, 2005
Time elapsed since filing: 2627 days
Among the documents that eluded us at the National Academies of Science (see #1) was a report of a US/UK joint military seminar on "non-lethal" weapons policy.We obtained other reports from this series, wherein US military officials are recorded speaking in unguarded terms about their interest in "non-lethal" biochemical weapons. The policy seminar promised to be most interesting.
We were excited when the UK established a "real" Freedom of Information law and, in January 2005, we filed for the report. Within 10 days we had an initial reply. The Ministry of Defence found a document and wanted to confirm that it was the correct one. "Great!", we thought, "those Brits have got it together!". But not long after, we got a more ominous e-mail. The Ministry had contacted the US Marines and - surprise! - "they have asked that it not be released."
These Brits, however, are not American lackeys. They wrote to say that they were going to make their own decision and inform us by 14 April 2005. London hasn't called since.
7. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL (CDC)
FOIA: Dates of
Issuance of Permits to Handle Biological Weapons Agents
Filed: January 22, 2005
Time elapsed since filing: 2609 days
After Boston University's cover-up of 3 laboratory-acquired tularemia infections was exposed, it became apparent that, at the time of the accidents, BU researchers may not have had the required federal permits to possess virulent tularemia organisms.
We asked CDC for the dates on which a number of BU researchers were issued these "select agent" permits. CDC quickly denied this information on plainly specious grounds and has yet to process the appeal we filed.
8. US ARMY / AMRIID (FT. DETRICK, MD)
FOIA: Smallpox Safety and Research Protocols
Filed: April 6, 2005
Time elapsed since filing: 2535 days
While smallpox virus is at CDC, it's Army scientists that do the work. We asked the Army for a variety of its smallpox research records. At first, the Army actually responded by saying that it had nothing. When we explained why that was preposterous, the Army said that it had been confused between "personal" and "agency" records. We were briefly encouraged. Since finding responsive records, however, the Army has ignored our queries about this request and no records have been released to us.
9. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL (CDC)
FOIA: Smallpox Safety and Research Protocols
Filed: April 6, 2005
Time elapsed since filing: 2522 days
CDC's Atlanta labs are the only place where smallpox (variola) virus is held in the United States. We requested a variety of documents related to research on the virus, particuluarly items related to safety procedures. We have received nothing.
10. NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH - OFFICE OF BIOTECHNOLOGY ACTIVITIES (OBA)
FOIA: Records of
NSABB's "Review" of the Resurrection of 1918 Influenza
Filed: October 6, 2005
Time elapsed since filing: 2352 days
After the deeds were done and the opportunity to meaningfully intervene largely sacrificed, in 2005 the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity (NSABB) was called in to assist with public relations problems surrounding the resurrection of 1918 influenza. NSABB "reviewed" the 1918 flu experiments literally only hours before they were to be printed. The "review" happened in a hastily convened phone call whose purpose was to rubber stamp a project that had not been properly overseen. It was a farce of a "review" aimed at derailing opposition to the experiments, rather than fulfilling NSABB's responsibilities.
NIH promised openness and transparency at NSABB, however, so we put that rhetoric to the test by asking for full documentation of the "review". Rather than putting its records where its mouth is, OBA has responded by haggling and ignoring Federal Appeals Court rulings about FOIA fees. We suspect this petty attitude from a FOIA office that is normally reasonably efficient has to do with a reluctance to release unflattering records.