The Freedom of Information Act used to be key to transparency in government. Not any more — at least, not if you ask about Building 7, a 47-story World Trade Center skyscraper that came crashing down on Sept. 11.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology investigated the collapse of Building 7 and issued their final report. They took a very unusual approach. Rather than examining remnants from the destroyed building, they developed a computer model that they claimed represented the building's characteristics. They theorized what might have been the cause for the collapse, then ran their computer model and claimed it represented what had actually happened. NIST states office fires alone led to the collapse of the building.
Now, more than 1,000 architects and engineers are asking for a new investigation. They say this defies the laws of physics. They ask for information on the computer model. Was it an accurate representation of the building itself?
Attempts to use FOIA to get information on the model have been futile. NIST refuses to provide critical information, saying, "release of the information may endanger public safety."
What? Endanger public safety? FOIA requests shouldn't be refused for such outlandish reasons.
(Note: This was published as a letter to editor in the North County Times on April 6, 2010)