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Wikileaks Publishes $1B of Public Domain Research Reports 231

Posted by timothy
from the well-there's-a-nice-circularity-to-that dept.
laird writes "Wikileaks has released nearly a billion dollars worth of quasi-secret reports commissioned by the United States Congress. The 6,780 reports, current as of this month, comprise over 127,000 pages of material on some of the most contentious issues in the nation, from the U.S. relationship with Israel to abortion legislation. Nearly 2,300 of the reports were updated in the last 12 months, while the oldest report goes back to 1990. The release represents the total output of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) electronically available to Congressional offices. The CRS is Congress's analytical agency and has a budget in excess of $100M per year. Although all CRS reports are legally in the public domain, they are quasi-secret because the CRS, as a matter of policy, makes the reports available only to members of Congress, Congressional committees and select sister agencies such as the GAO. Members of Congress are free to selectively release CRS reports to the public but are only motivated to do so when they feel the results would assist them politically. Universally embarrassing reports are kept quiet."
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Wikileaks Publishes $1B of Public Domain Research Reports

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  • by drdanny_orig (585847) * on Sunday February 08, 2009 @03:17PM (#26774709)
    That's good work, folks. Keep it up.
  • Sunshine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @03:20PM (#26774739) Journal

    Unreleased reports are the bane of a modern society.
    Unfavorable medical studies get buries, Congressional reports that never see the light of day.
    Hopefully this ray of sunshine will shake things up and give everyone something to complain about.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Who is going to take time to read this and miss out on American Idol?

      A lot of people go on about government conspiracies but there is no reason for the government to do anything in secret because it can be done out in the open and most people won't take notice and if they do find out odds are they won't care enough to do anything about it.
      • Re:Sunshine (Score:5, Insightful)

        by worthawholebean (1204708) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @05:05PM (#26775909)
        Watergate? If the offense is particularly egregious, getting it out in the open is usually enough to force change.
      • Re:Sunshine (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Eil (82413) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @05:46PM (#26776351) Homepage Journal

        Your staggering level of cynicism has been duly noted, but it doesn't change the fact that releasing these reports is beneficial for everyone even if every single person doesn't have an explicit interest in them. As a comparison, relatively few people actually ever utilize their 1st Amendment right to say unpopular things, but the fact that the right exists is invaluable.

        And yes, I do wonder why studies sponsored by my tax dollars weren't publicly available to begin with.

      • Who is going to take time to read this and miss out on American Idol?

        Oh shit am I missing an episode? I better get off slashdot and turn on my TV!

      • Re:Sunshine (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @05:50PM (#26776389) Journal

        A lot of people go on about government conspiracies but there is no reason for the government to do anything in secret because it can be done out in the open and most people won't take notice and if they do find out odds are they won't care enough to do anything about it.

        Lets start with government conspiracies. Two examples: telecom spying and extraordinary renditions. The first was done secretly, but journalists knew long before they made it public. The second was done out in the open and a small group of private citizens tracked a fleet of secret CIA jets to a variety of international destinations (which proved hugely embarrassing to quite a few intermediate European countries).

        Most people don't have to take notice, nor do they have to care enough to do anything about it.
        All that matters is that all of the time, some part of the populace cares and is capable of making a good case why "most people" should too.

        • Of course, now that we know about these two examples and millions of people are outraged... ...well, they're still happening. That's a different problem though I guess.

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        No one has to.

        1) What is your agenda?
        2) Find data relating to that agenda.
        3) Cite relevant reports on that agenda. People who don't read sources won't matter, but those who do can see reports from the *government* about it.
        4) Advance cause.
        5) ????
        6) PROFIT

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      They will just be classified 'national security issues' and stuck in a cabinet forever.

      THen you wont even know what you are missing out on.

  • Saddening (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Seraphim_72 (622457) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @03:21PM (#26774751)
    It is saddening to have to have this "leaked". It should reside at something like www.Government.us/research/ :(
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pro-mpd (412123)

      > www.Government.us/research/

      Ahem. www.crs.gov/reports, lest ye forget the Internet's roots as the U.S. DARPANET.

  • by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Sunday February 08, 2009 @03:30PM (#26774847) Homepage Journal

    For the .01% of the people who would actually read stuff like this, this is fantastic. It's important that the public has access to this, and a shame that no suitable politician has decided to request all the reports and publish the whole lot (is there any reason this is not the case? Contact your representatives!).

    For the rest of us, this is more in a long line of public information that we'll never read - more (potentially interesting but lost among the rest) documents are published by the military, various departments, etc, than we could shake a stick at, and it'd already be a fulltime job to even try to read everything in a field.

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @03:43PM (#26774977) Journal

      For the rest of us, this is more in a long line of public information that we'll never read - more (potentially interesting but lost among the rest) documents are published by the military, various departments, etc, than we could shake a stick at,

      Think tanks, research groups, journalists, students, historians and a whole passle of other professions will find this stuff invaluable.

      They have always provided a filter between raw material and the general public. I guarantee that these reports will immediately start getting cited in journals and newspaper articles. Best of all, we can read the primary source without having to pay the RAND Corporation or some other think tank $XYZ to get our hands on the document.

      • by Protonk (599901) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @03:50PM (#26775057) Homepage

        For the rest of us, this is more in a long line of public information that we'll never read - more (potentially interesting but lost among the rest) documents are published by the military, various departments, etc, than we could shake a stick at,

        Think tanks, research groups, journalists, students, historians and a whole passle of other professions will find this stuff invaluable.

        They have always provided a filter between raw material and the general public. I guarantee that these reports will immediately start getting cited in journals and newspaper articles. Best of all, we can read the primary source without having to pay the RAND Corporation or some other think tank $XYZ to get our hands on the document.

        Most of the RAND studies commissioned by the government which are not classified are available free from their wesbite [rand.org]. Just search around or browse to the topic area that interests you.

      • by Improv (2467)

        Certainly true. Occasionally I see references in journals to things like this [dtic.mil] - the more sources we can get like that, the better.

      • by rpillala (583965)

        I was thinking the same thing; however newsrooms are continually shrinking these days. Maybe it will take longer for this to affect coverage of national matters. But already at the state level, regional newspapers are disappearing and the bigger organizations like NYT are abandoning their news desks in places that used to get coverage. With no scrutiny, these local politicians can run amok.

    • by mpe (36238) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @03:57PM (#26775145)
      For the .01% of the people who would actually read stuff like this, this is fantastic. It's important that the public has access to this, and a shame that no suitable politician has decided to request all the reports and publish the whole lot (is there any reason this is not the case? Contact your representatives!).

      The original article states that politicians are only motivated to release information that potentially helps them politically. There is very likely to be information which would be politically dangerous. e.g. information lobby groups do not want know. Anyway what's to say it wasn't a politician who gave the information to Wikileaks?
    • by rpillala (583965)

      This sounds like a job for Dennis Kucinich. Say what you want about the man but it doesn't seem possible to embarrass him.

      • Maybe it's not possible to embarrass him because he's doing so well on all the major issues of the day: opposing Iraq invasion, opposing continued Iraq occupation, instantiating impeachment, supporting universal single-payer health care, citing Arms Export and Control Act in voting against House Measure which supported Israeli offensive, being the only repeat Democratic Party peace candidate, and speaking firmly based on ethical and legal grounds the whole way through. These are unarguably international is

        • by rpillala (583965)

          I don't think I phrased myself very well. I wanted to say that he doesn't do anything that gives the lie to his public statements. That is, he doesn't say one thing and do something else as so many politicians do. He also doesn't say one thing and then later come back hemming and hawing about how a position he now holds is completely opposite what he's said in the past but it's OK because blah blah blah. It certainly helps that I agree with him on nearly everything, down to being vegan. I contributed t

    • by patro (104336)

      For the rest of us, this is more in a long line of public information that we'll never read

      Governments could even hide information this way. They could publish tons of documents about every tiny detail, so it would be very hard to find the really interesting ones in the flood of information.

      Everything would be published somewhere, but no one could find it, so effectively it would be a secret.

    • Are you suggesting that the need to publish this material for wide dissemination is somehow related to the number of people who would read it; if few people are perceived to read the material there is much reduced need to publish the material?

      It seems to me that this conflates how many would read this material with who deserves access to this material. These factors strike me as two independent issues. Much like software freedom (the freedom to run, inspect, share, and modify a computer program) being deb

      • by Improv (2467)

        In case the tone of my post was not clear, I believe it's very important that things like this be published - we should have as much government transparency as we can (I would far rather have a transparent liberal autocracy than a secretive representative liberal democracy).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      For the .01% of the people who would actually read stuff like this, this is fantastic

      that is true.

      For the rest of us, this is more in a long line of public information that we'll never read - more (potentially interesting but lost among the rest) documents are published by the military, various departments, etc, than we could shake a stick at, and it'd already be a fulltime job to even try to read everything in a field.

      Let me help you: For the rest of us, it's a good thing that those .01% will look at those documents, and come and let us know when they find a smoking gun.

      You've heard of the "many eyes" theory, right? You don't have to personally read them to benefit from their release.

  • by cabalamat3 (1089523) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @03:40PM (#26774955) Homepage
    If research embarrasses some politicians, it should be leaked, because it suggests that reality is not in accordance with those politicians' beliefs, and that therefore those politicians may make wrong decisions.

    If research embarrasses all the politicians in Congress, it's even more important that it be leaked.
  • Why not under FOIA? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eh2o (471262) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @04:04PM (#26775221)

    Why wouldn't these reports be available under FOIA? Considering that its "nominally public domain" already, what exemption would it fall under to bar a request?

  • by ugen (93902) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @04:33PM (#26775541)

    So now that these reports are "released", how many of you, slashdot readers that post in this thread, actually read at least 1 of them in its entirety? How many read 2? 5? Hands, anyone?

    I did go to the site. I read 3 reports on a topic that interests me. What I found was a dry, relatively correct, summary of public and well known information. These reports are created so that each congressman (or whoever else may need them) does not have to read every single newspaper, web site or send his staff on a search of basic statistics. The information is not obtained in ways that are inaccessible to you and me, and reports do not seem to provide any particular insight not already available to those who follow the topic (for example I found nothing of interest in these reports, everything was well known to me, because I follow this topic on my own).

    There are hundreds of thousands of reports like these prepared in each large (or small) organization on variety of themes. They are not specifically released because, frankly, it is pointless to do so. While some sort of a website with these reports would be a symbol of opennes, it would likely have very little practical applicability. The only people who need these reports are those who need information on topics that they don't personally care very much about (so they don't want to do their own research) but do need for whatever reason to know what's going on. That means:
    1) politicians
    2) students, in particular during midterms and finals :) :)

    1st group has access anyway and 2nd could benefit from doing a bit of research on their own.

    Feel free to rate this flamebait.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08, 2009 @05:45PM (#26776325)

      Now that you skimmed some reports, you can judge that they were harmless, and claim it's "pointless" to release them. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

      I skimmed some too, and found them similarly dry, but had exactly the opposite reaction. I am upset that they have not been released earlier. $1,000,000,000 of taxpayers' money went to producing these reports. We paid for them and if they are not a matter of national security (in which case they should be classified), then we should have access to them.

      If democracy is going to work, voters need as much information as possible when deciding whether or not to replace their leaders come election time. Therefore, open access to harmless material should be the rule, not the exception. Closed access should be used only when absolutely necessary. Anything else makes it too easy for bad leaders (incompetent or otherwise) to cover their tracks and maintain power undeservedly.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuasiEvil (74356)

      Already have read one in its entirety while I was eating lunch, and will probably go digging around for more of interest this evening.

      While I agree with the supposition that the general populous is too stupid and/or lazy to bother educating themselves, and the release will not do them any good anyway, I'd argue on the side of, "Why not make the information available anyway?" It's a pretty good way for someone to bring themselves up to speed on some of the nuances of issues without doing a lot of research.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Eil (82413)

      So now that these reports are "released", how many of you, slashdot readers that post in this thread, actually read at least 1 of them in its entirety? How many read 2? 5? Hands, anyone?

      Um, this is Slashdot. To RTFA is practically a sin, imagine how verboten it would be to read research reports?

      (Actually, I'm off to see if I can find anything interesting right now. I just wanted to read the comments first.)

    • by commodoresloat (172735) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @05:55PM (#26776445)

      It is not "pointless" to release such reports -- they show the results specifically of an organization's investigation into a topic. Not just a source of info about the topic but also a source of info about what the organization considered and concluded on that topic. Very important for an organization that is supposed to be accountable to the people, such as Congress. These CRS reports used to be (and should be again) released by the GPO in hardcopy. CRS lobbied against bills that would have required them to be published over the internet.

  • by sTeF (8952) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @04:43PM (#26775657) Homepage Journal
    Computer Software and Open Source Issues: A Primer, December 17, 2003 [wikileaks.org]

    The use of open source software by the federal government has been gaining attention as organizations continue to search for opportunities to enhance their information technology operations while containing costs. For the federal government and Congress, the debate over the use of open source software intersects several other issues, including, but not limited to, the development of homeland security and e-government initiatives, improving government information technology management practices, strengthening computer security, and protecting intellectual property rights. Currently, the debate over open source software often revolves primarily around information security and intellectual property rights. However, issues related to cost and quality are often raised as well.

    Intellectual Property, Computer Software and the Open Source Movement, March 11, 2004 [wikileaks.org]

    This report considers the impact of intellectual property rights upon open source software. It provides an introduction to the open source movement in the software industry. It reviews the intellectual property laws, including copyrights, patents, and trade secrets. After identifying issues of interface between open source software and the intellectual property laws, the report concludes with a discussion of possible legislative issues and approaches.

    Telecommunications Japans Telecommunications Deregulation: NTTs Access Fees and Worldwide Expansion, August 9, 2000 [wikileaks.org]

    The United States and Japan are negotiating over Japan's costly rates for telecommunications companies to hook into the telephone network owned by the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Company (NTT), Japan's dominant provider of telecom services. The U.S. has argued for a 41 percent cut in the rates, while Japan has insisted on a 22 percent cut. NTT also is attempting to acquire Verio, an Internet service provider in the United States.

    Telecommunications Act: Competition, Innovation, and Reform, June 7, 2007 [wikileaks.org]

    Both houses of Congress have begun debating how to modify the 1996 Act, most of which resides within the Communications Act of 1934, as amended. That debate focuses on how to foster investment, innovation and competition in both the physical broadband network and in the applications that ride over that network while also meeting the many non-economic objectives of U.S. telecommunications policy: universal service, homeland security, public safety, diversity of voices, localism, consumer protection, etc.

    Patent-related The Obviousness Standard in Patent Law: KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc., May 31, 2007 [wikileaks.org]

    The Patent Act provides protection for processes, machines, manufactures, and compositions of matter that are useful, novel, and nonobvious. Of these three statutory requirements, the nonobviousness of an invention is often the most difficult to establish. To help courts and patent examiners make the determination, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit developed a test called "teaching, suggestion, or motivation" (TSM). This test provided that a patent claim is only proved obvious if

  • I've been googling titles of random reports and have yet to find anything that wasn't already available to the public. Has anyone found one that is new?
    • by RockMFR (1022315)
      Let me correct myself. A lot of these are available for free. It seems the rest are available for purchase from Penny Hill Press. From my calculations, it would only cost $50,000 for someone to buy all of these. Is that what is going on here?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Spy Hunter (317220)

        I'll tell you what's going on: government documents which are intrinsically public domain are being held behind artificially constructed "pay" walls erected by private companies. It's not an uncommon practice, not only in federal government but all the way down to local city and county governments, and in the past it actually made small amounts of sense. In the pre-internet days distributing documents cost non-trivial amounts of money because physical copies had to be made. Now that the Internet has driv

  • Since the list of names all start with CRS, the alphabetic list is thousands of reports all in the letter "C".

    HA.

  • I'd like to get the fulltext and meta pages of all of these repords in pdf and txt form so I can store them locally and work on them locally (the site is often overloaded at the moment, and advanced full text search is not available). I searched for a way to do that easily. No dice. The only way, it appears, would be to hammer the server with wget and recursively download everything on there. Bad form.

  • Does that refer to the bribe normally required to access these documents?

    How much is that in Libraries of Congress?

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