CRS Report Leaks Prove Tough to Stop

Posted May 11, 2009 at 6:28pm

Earlier this year, Wikileaks put more than 6,000 Congressional Research Service reports online, spawning excitement in the blogosphere, ire from some Members and an investigation by the inspector general of the Library of Congress.

But three months later, the reports are still online and the culprit is unknown.

IG Karl Schornagel said he hit a dead end a few weeks ago, after following the trail to the Senate. As clients of the CRS, Members and staffers have unfettered access to most of the CRS’ confidential reports online.

“These things could be leaked at any time in probably vast quantities by any staffer or Member of Congress,— Schornagel said recently. “We have no jurisdiction than to go further than their front door.—

That’s apparently where it will end. The IG’s office had discovered an anomaly, where a Senate Web site holding the CRS reports had updated twice, rather than the usual once. But Senate officials said that was a glitch in the system and not the reason for the leak, according to Schornagel.

A spokeswoman for Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said the office is not conducting an investigation. The IG office, meanwhile, has referred the case to the FBI.

The case highlights the increasing difficulty of keeping CRS reports private as technology makes spreading information instantaneous and easy.

For a century, the CRS has produced confidential analyses to Members, answering questions on everything from specific legislation to broader policy issues. Some reports are made available to the entire Congress; others are memos and briefings in response to an individual Member or committee.

Their secrecy has been more a product of preference than one driven by classified information. Over the years, some Members — such as Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) — have attempted to make CRS reports easily accessible to the public.

But Congress and the CRS have resisted, citing worries about politicizing the analyses. Recently, CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan reiterated at an appropriations hearing that the agency’s work “must be authoritative, objective and confidential.—

In many cases, the Internet is responsible for making the reports easily accessible to the public. Web sites like and Wikileaks make it easy for sympathetic staffers and Members to pass along reports, while other companies, such as Roll Call Group’s GalleryWatch, are able to collect the reports and charge subscribers.

Despite its unwillingness to make the reports directly available to the public, the CRS is taking steps to make it easier for Members to share reports, setting up a system where they can feed reports onto their official Web site for constituents to read.

Such capabilities are the “newest step,— CRS spokeswoman Janine D’Addario said.

“Knowing of the interest that there is in Members wanting to make reports available to constituents or to a wider audience, I think this facilitates their ability to do that,— she said.

But some argue that reports should be made officially public because Members otherwise can simply pick and choose whatever reports support their opinions.

Reports gathered surreptitiously also may not get updated as frequently; D’Addario pointed to those on Wikileaks, which stretched back as far as 1990.

The 6,780 reports from Wikileaks are still available online in an easy-to-download PDF format. But none have been added since they were first leaked in February, and D’Addario said the agency has added security measures to its Web site. She wouldn’t give details, citing security concerns.

Still, Members and staffers can continue to download PDFs of reports in order to send them to constituents — or anyone else.

“If we have provided a Member of Congress or committee with information, then it is up to them— to decide whether to release it publicly, D’Addario said.