Wikileaks.org, the online clearinghouse for leaked documents, has published a complete database of Congressional Research Service reports, which are private research documents written for members of Congress and their staffers.
The 6,780 reports date back to 1990 and comprise all of the digitized reports accessible by congressional offices, said Wikileaks, which estimated their value at US$1 billion. They do not contain classified material, but they do cover politically sensitive topics such as social policy, defense and foreign affairs.
The reports were obtained from the congressional intranet and delivered to Wikileaks three or four weeks ago, according to Wikileaks spokesman Daniel Schmitt. Wikileaks spent several weeks organizing the documents before publishing them on Sunday. It plans to make further reports public as well, so long as its anonymous source keeps providing them.
Wikileaks said it expects the reports to give the public a better idea of the information Congress has had at its disposal, and perhaps push lawmakers into making future reports publicly available. "Legally, they belong in the public domain," Schmitt said. "It is very important for anyone who is doing research as well as the general public to have access to this information, and see what the congressional research services is [producing]."
Groups such as the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) have been calling for Congress to make Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports public for years, but some have argued that public scrutiny could end up politicizing what is supposed to be an objective, nonpartisan office.
When made public, CRS reports can be politically sensitive. Just three weeks ago, a CRS report questioning the legality of the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program was reported in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
The CDT runs its own project, called Open CRS, which aims to make these reports public, and is working with the Wikileaks project to have the reports it obtained published on the CDT Web site in the next few days, said Ari Schwartz, the CDT's chief operating officer.
It is legal to make these reports public, but historically members of Congress and their staffers have done this at their discretion. Schwartz estimates that Open CRS was publishing between 80 and 90 percent of all reports being produced. The reports are also sold via data collection services such as Penny Hill Press.
Schwartz agreed that the leak could force policy makers to take a second look at the way the CRS operates. "We hope that it pulls down the curtain a little bit and says there's no reason for this policy at this point," he said.
Technically part of the U.S. Library of Congress, the CRS has a staff of about 700. It did not return a call seeking comment for this story.