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Reporter Palast Slips Clutches of Homeland Security

Greg Palast | September 15 2006

Forget the orange suit. Exxon Mobil Corporation, which admits it was behind the criminal complaint brought by Homeland Security against me and television producer Matt Pascarella, has informed me that the oil company will no longer push charges that Pascarella and I threatened “critical infrastructure.”

The allegedly criminal act, which put us on the wrong side of post-9/11 anti-terror law, was our filming of Exxon's Baton Rouge refinery where, nearby, 1,600 survivors of Hurricane Katrina remain interned behind barbed wire.

I have sworn to Homeland Security that we no longer send our footage to al-Qaeda — which, in any case, can get a much better view of the refinery and other “critical infrastructure” at Google Maps.

Given Exxon's back-down, I hope to confirm with Homeland Security, Baton Rouge, that charges will be dropped today.

Matt and I want to thank you, our readers and viewers, for your extraordinary and heartfelt responses. Public support undoubtedly led Exxon to call off the feds.

Of course, this was never about our tipping off Osama that Louisiana contains oil refineries. This has an awful lot to do with a petroleum giant's sensitivity to unflattering depictions of their plants which are major polluters along Louisiana's notorious “Cancer Alley.”

I've learned that, in April last year, Exxon brought a similar Homeland Security charge against Willie Fontenot, an assistant to the Attorney General of Louisiana. Fontenot was guiding a group of environmental studies pupils from Antioch College on a tour of Cancer Alley. Exxon's complaint about the “national security” threat posed by their photos of the company's facility cost Fontenot his job.

The issue is not national security but image security. You can get all the film you want from Exxon of refineries if you'll accept nice, sanitized VPRs (video press releases) of clean smokestacks surrounded by happy herons.

What's dangerous is not that reporters will end up in Guantanamo; the insidious effect of these threats is to keep networks from filming government and corporate filth, incompetence and inhumanity. Besides the Exxon foolishness, our camera crew was also blocked from filming inside the notorious Katrina survivors trailer encampment.

Furthermore earlier that same day, a FEMA contractor had grabbed our camera, in mid-interview, when polite but pointed questions exposed their malfeasance.

As with Exxon, the bar from filming at the refugee camp and in the offices of the government contractor were presented to us as a “Homeland Security” matter.

After the September 11 attacks, CBS Newsman Dan Rather said, “George Bush is the President. …Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.”

Reporters who step out of line, who ask uncomfortable questions and film uncomfortable scenes, soon find their careers toasted, as Dan can attest to.

One of George Bush's weirder acts in office (and that's saying a lot) was to move FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose main job is to save us from floods and earthquakes, into the control of the Department of Homeland Security. Exxon's refineries, once “pollution source points” scrutinized by government watchdogs, are now “critical infrastructure” protected by federal hounddogs.

As the front lines in the War on Terror expand from Baghdad to Baton Rouge, we find that America has been made secure only against hard news and uncomfortable facts.

Again, our sincere thanks and gratitude for your support. Cakes with files have been consumed.

 

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