- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

ODENTON, Md. (AP) — The National Security Agency (NSA) has been reluctant to share information about environmental conditions on its property, much to the frustration of environmental groups and government regulators, activists complain.

“No one’s asking them for state secrets,” said Zoe Draughon, chairman of the Restoration Advisory Board, a group of activists and regulators overseeing the environmental cleanup of Fort Meade, where the NSA has its headquarters.

Miss Draughon said her group will not let the spy agency “wrap themselves up in paranoia and patriotism and say they have classified dirt.”

The NSA occupies a section of Fort Meade, a 5,400-acre federal complex that has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list of the nation’s most-hazardous sites since 1998.

The 86-year-old post, a major camp for soldiers during both world wars, was placed on the EPA list because of contamination from fuels, solvents and munitions. Some of the worst problems were found in 1995, when workers discovered 267 buried drums seeping petroleum.

NSA is not near Fort Meade’s most-hazardous sites, which include an old laundry facility and a dump. But because the agency is known to make its own computer chips, regulators were curious to see the soil’s condition.

Instead of participating in an Army environmental study, the NSA conducted its own last year and recently gave its findings to an EPA representative before abruptly taking them back, citing security concerns.

In a written response to questions from the Baltimore Sun, NSA officials said they classified their report because it gave away too much information about its buildings and their functions.

The agency added that it has every intention of complying with environmental laws and promised EPA officials an edited, unclassified version of the report without the sensitive information by early next year, when the NSA is expected to complete its security review.

Paul H. Leonard, chief of federal facilities regulation at the EPA’s regional headquarters in Philadelphia, said the study, as an investigation into pollution at a Superfund site, was part of the regulatory process.

“They’ve handled hazardous waste in the past for some of their operations,” he said. “They are required to investigate any areas where they would potentially have contamination. We don’t have a lot of information — that’s what this report was geared at.”

Mr. Leonard said the EPA needs the report to properly define the scope of pollution at Fort Meade and decide on any cleanup.

“We want to get it as fast as we can,” he said, “but we also understand the security issues.”

Mr. Leonard said the NSA was the only federal agency in its jurisdiction — which covers five states and the District — to take back a report it had given regulators.

Gary Zolyak, who runs Fort Meade’s Environmental Management Office, said he was surprised to learn that the NSA had taken back its information.

“Our working relationship with NSA over the years, I always thought it was a very good one,” Mr. Zolyak said. “This is the first time I can recall that there was a hesitation to provide information to the Fort Meade Environmental Management Office.”

But Mr. Zolyak said he understands NSA’s concerns — the environmental studies often include maps, aerial photos and other sensitive information.

Miss Draughon, however, said the NSA could give regulators the information while keeping it from the public.

Miss Draughon, who has fought the NSA over plans to build a generator and an incinerator, said she might turn to Congress for the report if regulators don’t get it soon.

“This is a report that absolutely belonged to EPA,” Miss Draughon said. “They seem to have forgotten there is chain of command, even for NSA.”

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