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"Forget the Rest" blog

Why Citizens Inspections Matter
updated 05/19/10

The Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico are two important epicenters of the U.S. military industrial complex. Both produce intellectual and physical products used in the nuclear weapons arsenal. Both also produce the intellectual products of policy, political power, and ideology. Both have recently lent their support to the renewal of the US nuclear weapons program and have led the charge for the research, design, and production of new nuclear weapons. All of this with virtually zero opposition from the public.

Both laboratories are shrouded in secrecy. Much of their work is classified in nature, and that which is not nevertheless remains a closely guarded secret. Institutions like these, with the missions and goals that they have, are hoping that the public will turn a blind eye, will remain uninformed and dis-empowered.

The mass production of nuclear weapons happens best when the public is least involved. Hard line shifts in US policy regarding the use of nuclear weapons are easier to craft when the public isn't looking. Inflations of the nuclear weapons budget are easier to lobby for when the public doesn't have a voice or isn't aware.

Institutions like the nuclear weapons laboratories are counting on the public's non-participation and dis-empowerment, but such a situation is dangerous for our democracy and security. As President Eisenhower said in his farewell address to the nation, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex… We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted."1

Citizen inspections are a means of exercising our liberties and responsibilities as US citizens. They serve to open up institutions, establish bright lines between justly classified information and the information which the public has the right to access, and the need to know. Citizen inspections help to build a popular knowledge about institutions and current events so that citizens can be more effective participants in the political sphere.

Citizen inspections are part of a larger freedom, that if not exercised may very well perish.

Bright Lines

Some information should remain classified for as long as it exist: How to miniaturize a thermonuclear weapon, methods of weaponizing biological agents, some of the most fundamental work of the National Laboratories. But the knowledge that these kinds of programs and policy led experiments are being pursued in American scientific institutions should never remain a secret. Indeed, most of the activities of the military-industrial complex must be fully disclosed to the public for democracy to exist as more than a name. The expansion of state secrecy which establishes fully classified government functions, as well as expanding gradients of unofficial and unnecessary secrecy endangers the public's ability to exercise democratic control over its organs of national security.

Citizen inspections have the effect of focusing and clarifying the lines of government secrecy. Citizens should know all that there is to know about their departments of defense, energy, and homeland security. Where legitimate security concerns arise, citizen inspectors need not act. But where irrational and unjustified barriers exist, citizens can tear down these curtains using inspections and public documentation.

Popular Knowledge

The collective work of citizens inspectors compiles what can only be called a popular knowledge. This kind of knowledge is popular as opposed to elite because it presupposes the participation of people who need not be experts or professionals, but only citizens with enough concern and care to educate themselves and others. It is a popular knowledge because it exist in a publicly documented form accessible to anyone who might be seeking information, or anyone who might have information that should be made available to others. It is completely open and peer reviewed as opposed to the closed systems of information that characterize the weapons complex that it covers. Furthermore, popular knowledge need not imply "simplistic" or "dumbed down" information. Rather, it can be in depth information on technical, sociological, cultural, economic, and political aspects of military institutions as they impact certain localities and regions.

There need not be any central clearinghouse for a communities information gathered through citizen inspections on a specific site or subject, although it can help. Popular knowledge is found in the inspectors, in their collective experience, and in the many efforts they make to document their experiences as citizen inspectors.

Taking Action

Action is necessary. Conducting a citizen inspection is one of the most effective means of taking action against the further militarization of American society. More than just education and documentation, a citizen's inspection is a form of direct nonviolent action at the very nexus of violence and power. The presence of inspectors alone has very real implications in terms of the political, cultural, and economic power of a nuclear weapons facility, and the military-industrial complex as a whole. Direct nonviolent actions as simple as an interview with a laboratory employee, taking a photo of a nuclear weapons facility, documenting construction at a site, or educating others about the renewed production of weapons components, all of this will affect the ability of an institution to continue operating in secrecy, to continue lobbying for its own advantage at the expense of our security. Citizen inspections are extremely effective tools of nonviolent resistance and action against the warfare state.

1. Eisenhower, Dwight. "Farewell Address to the Nation." January 17, 1961

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