Local watchdog group Levees.org is asking Sen. Mary Landrieu to call for a federal investigation into the allegation that the Corps used personnel and federal computers to conduct a coordinated attack on critics of the Corps. Last week WWLTV aired a story that Corps of Engineer employees were utilizing government-owned computers to counter comments by Corps critics on the Times Picayune Web site, NOLA.com.
Sandy Rosenthal, founder of Levees.org, says her group decided to make this request of Landrieu after Jonathan Donley, a founding editor-in-chief of NOLA.com, gave an affidavit regarding the Corps activity on the NOLA.coms breaking news blogs.
In the sworn affidavit, Donley said during a six-week period, late 2008 to early 2009, nearly 700 comments, about 15 posts per day, came from Corps computers and were posted to the NOLA.coms breaking news blog. This led Donley to speculate that someone from the Corps, had been systematically using tax-funded resources in personnel time and federal computer infrastructure to conduct a systematic attack on critics of the Corps of Engineers via NOLA.coms user-engagement features. Donley left NOLA.com as part of the companys layoffs in February of this year.
In January, Rosenthal began requesting the Times Picayune to release the comment section data from these breaking news blogs. The Times Picayune has since written that it does not release the identities of online commenters unless it is ordered to do so by the courts. Rosenthal says she never asked for the actual identities, but only wanted the user names and comments emanating from an IP address, which had been identified as the Corps.
Rosenthal responds to criticism that such an investigation would violate the Corps employees freedom of speech.
Im not a lawyer, but the rules are different for federal employees, Rosenthal says. Federal employees must abide by the rules of the Hatch Act, which limits political activities. This was during work time using taxpayer funded resources. Plus, there were also racist comments made by these commenters, which may be in violation of the Civil Rights Act.