The Library of Congress, which recently shutoff access to WikiLeaks on its computers, may be unintentionally undermining the research its analysts perform for lawmakers, classification expert Steven Aftergood, who regularly publishes a government secrecy newsletter, blogged on Monday.
The Congressional Research Service, a branch of the library that scours bills, news and other primary sources to inform lawmakers of pressing issues, “will be unable to access or to cite the leaked materials in their research reports to Congress,” wrote Aftergood, who runs the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, a nonpartisan think tank.
Several current and former library employees told him that restricting access to WikiLeaks could degrade CRS analysts’ research and may not have a legal basis, he added.
- “It’s a difficult situation,” said one CRS analyst. “The information was released illegally, and it’s not right for government agencies to be aiding and abetting this illegal dissemination. But the information is out there. Presumably, any Library of Congress researcher who wants to access the information that WikiLeaks illegally released will simply use their home computers or cell phones to do so. Will they be able to refer directly to the information in their writings for the library? Apparently not, unless a secondary source, like a newspaper, happens to have already cited it.”
- “I don’t know that you can make a credible argument that CRS reports are the gold standard of analytical reporting, as is often claimed, when its analysts are denied access to information that historians and public policy types call a treasure trove of data,” a former CRS employee said.
- In a press release, LOC explained its actions by citing an Office of Management and Budget memo regarding the obligation that federal agencies and federal employees have to protect classified information. “But LOC is statutorily chartered as the library of the House and the Senate. It is a legislative branch agency. I don’t recall either chamber directing the blocking of access to WikiLeaks for/or by its committees, offices, agencies, or members,” a different former analyst said.
The library did not respond to Aftergood’s request for comment on the issue over the weekend. Aftergood’s summation: “If CRS is ‘Congress’ brain,’ then the new access restrictions could mean a partial lobotomy.”