Declassification Board Tasked to Review Senate Reports

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has endorsed a proposal to task the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) to review the recent Intelligence Committee reports on pre-war intelligence to determine if they were properly declassified.

He acted in response to harsh criticism from Senate Democrats alleging that the Bush Administration had abused its classification authority to conceal embarrassing or offensive information in the reports that was unrelated to national security.

Instead of pursuing legislative action to compel declassification, as urged by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Roberts said that the PIDB should be asked to render a judgment, as originally proposed last week by Sen. Ron Wyden.

“Let’s let the Public Interest Declassification Board take a look at these reports,” said Sen. Roberts in the course of a heated debate on the Senate floor September 14.

“That was the suggestion by Senator Wyden, picked up by Senator Bond, endorsed by myself and I think by the Senator from West Virginia [Sen. Rockefeller]. That is the proper way to go about it,” Sen. Roberts said.

The endorsement by Intelligence Committee Chairman Roberts is crucial to the activation of the Declassification Board, since the PIDB, under the terms of its enabling legislation, accepts congressional requests for declassification review only when they are “made by the committee of jurisdiction,” not by individual members.

The review of the contested Intelligence Committee reports will be the first such action to be undertaken by the Board, and it is likely to set a precedent, whether favorable or unfavorable, for similar reviews in the future.

The Public Interest Declassification Board, established by statute in 2000 and modified by the intelligence reform legislation of 2004, is composed of nine non-governmental persons appointed by the President and congressional leaders. Eight of the nine members have been named so far. A ninth member, who is to be designated by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, has still not been appointed.

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