Public Interest Declassification Board Stalls

Confronted for the first time by a congressional request to review the classification of two congressional reports, the new Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) has been stymied by doubts over its own authority to proceed.

The PIDB was formally created by statute in 2000 to serve as an advisory body on declassification priorities and policies. Its controlling statute was modified in the intelligence reform legislation of 2004, when its members began to be named, but it first received funding in fiscal year 2006.

In September, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee including its chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), asked the Board to review the controversial classification of portions of two committee reports on pre-war Iraq intelligence, contending that those documents were overclassified. It was the Board’s first such tasking.

Under the terms of the amended statute, the Board now says it cannot act on the congressional request without specific Presidential approval.

“The statute under which we operate provides that [President Bush] must request the board undertake such a review before it can proceed,” wrote L. Britt Snider, chairman of the Public Interest Declassification Board, in a letter to Sen. Wyden.

In effect, it appears, the Bush Administration must authorize the Board’s investigation of whether the Bush Administration overclassified the reports in question.

See “Anti-secrecy panel called ‘toothless’,” by Shaun Waterman, United Press International, October 30.

Some aspects of the dilemma were reported by Tim Starks in Congressional Quarterly on October 20, and elaborated by Nick Schwellenbach of the Project on Government Oversight in “Public Interest Declassification Board: Who’s the Boss?”.

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