NASA guards remove journalists during animal rights protest
WASHINGTON D.C.–Security guards removed journalists from a NASA headquarters administrative office during a late-October animal rights activist protest, according to journalists involved in the incident.
Officials from Goddard Space Flight Center are investigating the incident under an order by Michael Christensen, NASA Associate Administrator for Headquarters Operations. NASA said it will not officially comment on the incident until the investigation is completed.
The protest started during a NASA Advisory Council meeting, where a representative from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals interrupted the meeting and announced that a protest was occurring down the hall in the office of a top administrator at NASA. PETA was protesting a project between NASA and Russian and French space programs in which monkeys are launched in satellites into space to test how living organisms adapt to space flight. Some journalists were informed of the protest before it occurred, and at least four left the meeting to cover the protest.
A freelance science reporter, A.R. Hogan, was told to leave the administrative office by security guards after he and two other photographers took pictures of security guards dragging protesters out of the room. The photographers, who were wearing press credentials, objected and explained that they were observing the event as members of the press, but two security guards grabbed Hogan’s arms and forced him out of the room and the NASA building, Hogan said.
Andrew Lawler, a reporter from Science magazine, said that he and Frank Morring Jr., managing editor of Aerospace Daily, stood in the administrative office, out of the way of security guards and protesters, observing the event.
Lawler said that when he saw security guards pulling Hogan out of the room, he tried to explain to a NASA official that Hogan is a reporter. Lawler was then told he would also have to leave the protest and a security guard tried to pull him out the door, he said. When Lawler resisted, four guards surrounded the two journalists and one threatened to take away their press credentials, he said. A NASA public affairs representative soon intervened and allowed Lawler and Morring to watch the protest from behind one of the office’s glass doors so they could see how it was handled, Lawler said.
However, Lawler said, he was manhandled again by a guard as he was trying to leave the building later in the day.
In response to the incident, both Morring and Lawler’s news editor wrote letters of protest to NASA. They had not received responses by late November.
Although Brian Welch, Chief of News and Information for NASA headquarters, would not give an official statement, he said the reporters were turned away because their credentials did not cover access to the office and they did not have a reasonable justification for being there. Welch said he was present at the protest and witnessed some of the events.
Welch also said the guards told the journalists to leave because they were dealing with active protesters, who could have been carrying chemicals or spray paint. The security guards were trying to clear the area for safety reasons, which is the security guards’ first responsibility, he said.