SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 13
February 12, 2003
Lincoln's -- and Darwin's -- 194th birthday

ONLINE ACCESS TO CRS REPORTS SOUGHT

A bipartisan resolution to provide internet access to reports of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) was introduced on February 11 by Senators John McCain, Patrick Leahy, Joseph Lieberman, and Tom Harkin.

"The American public paid over $81 million to fund CRS's operations in fiscal year 2002 alone," noted Senator McCain. "The informational reports covered by this resolution are not confidential or classified, and the public deserves to have access to them."

At Congressional direction, CRS has for years resisted allowing direct public access to its research reports, arguing not very persuasively that such access could interfere with the performance of its mission. Nevertheless, CRS reports are readily available to Washington insiders and are even marketed by some private publishers. Many of the most significant CRS reports have been put online independently by non-governmental organizations.

"The goal of our bipartisan legislation is to allow every citizen the same access to the wealth of CRS information as a Member of Congress enjoys today," said Senator Leahy. "CRS performs invaluable research and produces first-rate reports on hundreds of topics. American taxpayers have every right to have direct access to these wonderful resources."

See the introduction of Senate Joint Resolution 54 on access to CRS products here:

The debate on this issue, which has persisted for several years now, is immensely flattering to CRS.

"The Congressional Research Service has a well-known reputation for producing high-quality reports and information briefs that are unbiased, concise and accurate," said Senator Leahy.

But they also tend to be derivative, equivocal, and even-handed to the point of incoherence. Issues that do not lend themselves to concise summaries or split-the-difference conclusions, or that depend upon original investigation of remote sources, tend to get short shrift. And the methodological conceit of non-partisanship means that CRS reports often lack the penetrating insights of the best opinion journalism and partisan analysis.

Still, many CRS publications serve as fine introductions to complex issues and reliable guides to longstanding debates. It is remarkable that public access to them should even be in question.

The Project on Government Oversight published a new report this week that was cited by Senator Leahy. See "Congressional Research Service Products: Taxpayers Should Have Easy Access":

Some recent CRS reports of note include these:

"Iraq: Potential U.S. Military Operations," by Steve Bowman, January 13, 2003:

"Iraq: Divergent Views on Military Action," by Alfred Prados, updated January 31, 2003:

"Nuclear Earth Penetrator Weapons," by Jonathan Medalia, updated January 27, 2003:


PATRIOT II PROPOSAL DRAWS CRITICISM

The reaction this week to word that the Justice Department is developing follow-on legislation to the Patriot Act that would further expand law enforcement surveillance and other authorities was almost universally critical, on both substantive and procedural grounds.

"If there is going to be a sequel to the USA PATRIOT Act, the process of writing it should be open and accountable. It should not be shrouded in secrecy, steeped in unilateralism or tinged with partisanship," said Sen. Patrick Leahy in a press statement. "The early signals from the Administration about its intentions for this bill are ominous, and I hope Justice Department officials will change the way they are handling this." See:

The package of Justice Department proposals does contain some positive features, the Washington Post noticed. For example, the draft Section 108 would enable the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR) to appoint an attorney to represent a point of view opposing that of the Justice Department. The record of last September's FISCR hearing was defective, Secrecy News complained on February 6, precisely because it lacked such an opposing view. Apparently, the Justice Department independently reached the same conclusion.

On the whole, however, the draft legislation would give the government "more power unilaterally to exempt people from the protections of the justice system and place them in a kind of alternative legal world. Congress should be pushing in the opposite direction," the Post editorialized.

See "Patriot Act: The Sequel," Washington Post, February 12:


WORLDWIDE THREAT BRIEFING

The leaders of the U.S. intelligence community presented their annual worldwide threat briefing to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 11.

They offered a digest of U.S. intelligence views on a host of global security issues, beginning with what was described as an imminent threat of terrorist attack -- "plots timed to occur as early as the end of the Hajj, which occurs late this week," as Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet put it.

See the prepared testimony of DCI Tenet, FBI Director Mueller, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Adm. Jacoby, and State Department INR Director Carl Ford here:


SCIENTIFIC DATA SHARING ERODES

Research scientists have an ethical obligation to share the scientific data that underlies their published research. But increasingly, that obligation has been neglected or violated, according to a new National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report.

The sources of this deviation notably include "the commercial and other interests of authors in their research data and materials." In other words, publication of data is subordinated to proprietary interests in the commercialization of research. Other factors are the "growing role of large datasets in biology" and "the cost and time involved in producing some data and materials."

The NAS report proposes a set of principles that it says should inform community standards on data sharing, beginning with the foundational principle that "in exchange for the credit and acknowledgment that come with publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, authors are expected to provide the information essential to their published findings."

See "Sharing Publication-Related Data and Materials: Responsibilities of Authorship in the Life Sciences" from the Academy's Board on Life Sciences, 2003:

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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