December 06, 2006

Wyden: Intelligence Reports Overclassified, Public Should Have Access to More

Washington, DC - Following the Senate Intelligence Committee's release of two of five planned reports on pre-war Iraq intelligence, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden today criticized the excessive classification of the report and said he would urge an independent board that oversees classification of information to review the documents to determine if in fact too much was kept secret.

Wyden, who serves on the Intelligence Committee, said he would ask the Public Interest Declassification Board to examine the two reports and make a recommendation as to whether information that was not sensitive was improperly classified.

"Parts of these reports read like a dictionary with the definitions cut out," Wyden said. "I am very troubled that some information in these reports has been classified even though its release would have no impact on national security. I am particularly concerned it appears that information may have been classified to shield individuals from accountability. We must strike a balance between protecting legitimate national security interests and ensuring people's rights to information about their safety and security."

During passage of the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act, Wyden and a bipartisan group of Senators worked to expand the mandate of the Public Interest Declassification Board to make recommendations on whether or not documents were properly classified. The Senators worked the next year to secure funding for the Board, which met for the first time this year.

Wyden's request to the Board will mark the first time that a Member of Congress has taken advantage of the Board's function as a watchdog of classification policy. Wyden said the Board could provide judgments independent of both the Congress and the Administration as to classification.

"I think the intelligence community used their black highlighters excessively as they reviewed these reports," Wyden said. "The American people have a right to see these documents and decide for themselves whether they agree with our conclusions. It will be more difficult for them to do that if these documents are overly - and improperly - classified."

Wyden continued, "This is a textbook case of abuse of the classification system. Unfortunately, this sort of intelligence abuse has gone on for years and it's just not good government."

The first of the two reports, which was approved by the Intelligence Committee 14-1, analyzes post-invasion findings regarding Saddam Hussein's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorism. It concludes that the Saddam regime did not possess weapons of mass destruction and was not actively pursuing them. It also concludes that Saddam did not have an active relationship with Al-Qaida and generally was distrustful of Osama bin Laden and his associates.

The second report examines the use of intelligence provided by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) to the U.S. intelligence community. That report, which the Intelligence Committee approved 11-4, concludes that the INC attempted to influence U.S. policy and provided false information through defectors about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's links to terrorism.

Additionally, Wyden, along with the six other Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee, submitted additional views along with the reports in which they outlined areas in which Administration officials made statements about WMD and links to terrorism that exaggerated or went beyond available intelligence. Wyden stated that portions of these additional views were overclassified as well.