Tuesday, February 14, 2006

White House Alters Scientific Documents at NASA to Reflect Administration Policy

February 14, 2006

The hottest new cronyism scandal from the Bush regime relates directly to a column I almost published a few weeks ago. Right at the end of January, a story broke about James Hansen, the physicist in charge of the space program’s efforts to model the Earth’s climate using supercomputers. Hansen, who is 63 and has been working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for over thirty years, began sounding alarms about global warming (for which he is now famous) in the late eighties, and in 2004 he gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention criticizing the President’s energy policy. Needless to say, he made some enemies. I kept the story in the back of my mind to watch it develop, and now the truth is out.

Bush’s refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol looked hypocritical if our own agencies were issuing reports about the dire consequences of global warming, and the White House had apparently had enough of Hansen’s politically inconvenient complaints. Even before the election, Hansen began raising protests that the NASA administration was trying to censor his work. In early 2004, orders passed largely by word of mouth started filtering back from Washington to the various research divisions; all NASA labs were to emphasize the various elements of Bush’s “vision statement” in their earth science publications.

In December of 2004, one NASA scientist made some questionable claims in a press release for the Jet Propulsion Laboratories, but when his colleagues pressed him about the matter, he e-mailed the White House and admitted he had simply made something up to fulfill the new requirements. The NASA administration removed the quote from the release—but the Washington public affairs office ran the original version. White House pressure did not decrease.

The twist that makes this a story of Bush regime cronyism is George C. Deutsch, a presidential appointee at NASA and one of the first casualties of the purge initiated by the Times story. Not only had Deutsch garnered his post at the public affairs office in return for work in the “war room” during Bush’s reelection campaign, but it has recently come to light that he doesn’t even have the B.A. in journalism listed on his resume.

Deutsch had ordered, among other things, that press access to Hansen be restricted, and in October of 2005 he issued a memo requiring all mentions of the Big Bang be accompanied by the word “theory.” In his memo, Deutsch explained that the Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion,” and that it was “not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator." Hansen was furious with this heavy-handed manipulation; the White House clamped down on him even harder.

At first, agency officials denied the charges that White House appointees had ordered an internal review of all Hansen’s work before it was published. Deputy assistant director of internal affairs Dean Acosta would say only that Hansen was subject to the same restrictions as other NASA employees who might be considered setters of administration policy. Hansen said the he intended to flatly ignore the increasing restrictions and was threatened, he says, with “dire consequences.”

Since the New York Times article on the story broke, several other NASA scientists and public affairs officers have come forward with reports of political appointees trying to control the flow of information from the Agency by delaying publication of certain items, making alterations, and using similar tactics to reinforce the White House’s political agenda. Michael D. Griffin, NASA’s head administrator, issued an e-mail to all 19,000 employees barely a week after the article was published, saying, "It is not the job of public-affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff."

Now that the tide has shifted at NASA, we can hopefully expect these administration stoolies to be flushed from the space program’s bureaucracy, but this is symptomatic of a much, much larger problem. Warping scientific publications to reflect to worldview of the Republican party is a lie, and a lie to the American people is tantamount to treason because people can only make good choices when properly informed. The Bush regime has become a totalitarian threat to Americans (red and blue alike) and the entire world; they run the nation like a Gestapo state, obsessed with controlling and restricting the flow of information.

Unauthorized wiretaps, government alteration of scientific documents, legal maneuverings to make atrocity laws inapplicable to the head of the nation—these are tales one would expect from Soviet Russia, not modern America! Only in ignorance can one fail to be outraged, and bland public reaction to news like this is indicative of how successful the propaganda campaign has been so far. Bush is the new Nixon; I hope he falls much, much harder.

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