Congress seeks to reform nation’s intelligence classification system

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to reform America’s intelligence classification system. The group said changes need to be made to reduce overclassification and prevent the mishandling of the most sensitive classified documents. 

“We’ve got a byzantine, bizarre, bureaucratic system that has not kept up with the times, has not moved at all to digitalization,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said.  

“If you go over to the national archives they can show you football fields full of documents that are being stored there and they simply don’t have the capacity to keep up with that,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. 

Overclassification and the mishandling of sensitive information have caused multiple problems in 2023. 

President Biden, former President Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence all had to turn over classified documents that were improperly taken after they left office and stored in either their home or personal office. 

In April, Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira was federally charged after posting highly classified materials online. Those documents publicized sensitive information about the war in Ukraine and revealed that the United States government is spying on some of our allies, including Ukraine, South Korea, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. 

The bill has provisions to prevent the mishandling of classified documents: 

  • It mandates standards for executive branch insider threat programs to help prevent people from walking out of a government building with sensitive documents they intend to make public;
  • It requires security reviews of presidential and vice presidential records to ensure that records bearing classification markings are not improperly categorized as personal records and removed from secure facilities.

The bill also includes measures to address overclassification: 

  • It mandates that information may only be, or remain classified when the harm to national security reasonably expected from disclosure outweighs the public interest;
  • It creates what’s described as a “tax” on agencies based on how many classified records they generate. 

Members of Congress constantly complain about classified briefings containing information that is either already public or would not harm national security if it were released. They contend it’s one of the reasons the American public was left in the dark about key facts regarding the Chinese spy balloon incident in February. 

“As usual we had another classified briefing in which we learned nothing that I didn’t already know as a member of the intelligence committee and armed services committee, or for that matter that one couldn’t learn from reading your newspapers and watching your news channels,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said after the February briefing.  

“The American people need and deserve to know more. There is a lot of information presented to us this morning that could be told to the American people without any harm to sources or methods or our national security,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said. 

A Thursday, May 11 court hearing will determine if Teixiera can be released while he awaits trial or if he’s considered a national security risk and needs to be detained. 

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