Top secretInternationalIndiaAfricaThe urgency of implementing reforms of the US government’s security classification process has been underscored in the wake of the recent “Pentagon Leaks,” as well as alleged misuse of classified documents by the Joe Biden and, before that, Donald Trump administrations.A more “sensible” classification of US government records as secret or top secret, and boosted oversight on handling of such information is being pushed to ostensibly rule out a repetition of embarrassments like the recent so-called “Pentagon Leaks.”The key terms being used in connection with the proposed legislation are “overclassification” and “technological modernization.” A bipartisan group of lawmakers stated that there has been a growing clamor for a classified intelligence reform, but it was only when the “ball was dropped,” so to say, as in the case of the recent Pentagon leaks, that the process might finally get off the ground. What exactly is being proposed in line with this reform?Two bills have been proposed by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) as part of this overhaul: the Classification Reform Act and the Sensible Classification Act.
"Whether it got in-total attached or whether we have pieces of this that went into the [National Defense Authorization Act] or the Intelligence Authorization Act, we’re actively working that," Warner, the head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a Thursday briefing, adding he hoped for some breakthroughs already during this legislative session.
The United States government has so many records that are classified that a vast number of people require security clearances, warned the senators. They also referenced the military as purporting that this was one of the obstacles to “working smoothly with our allies around the world.” The bar needs to be raised on what information would be classified secret and top secret, with these labels reserved only for information that truly needs to be protected, John Cornyn underscored.While federal agencies currently often classify mundane documents “by default,” the Classification Reform Act would leave it up to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to determine classification and declassification of documents. To serve as “official advisor” to the Director of National Intelligence on the matter, the existing Public Interest Declassification Board would be provided with specially-tailored funding and staff.To deal with “overclassification,” there would be a so-called “tax” on classifying too much by agencies. The penalty would come out of a working capital fund financing declassifying programs.To sum it up, the legislation introduced on Wednesday specifically includes:A 25-year time limit on classifying government records as secret or top secret.Financial incentives to discourage agencies from classifying too many records annually.Training for agency staff on classification.Enhanced centralized governance over classification of docsBoosting insider threat programs.
The “byzantine, bizarre bureaucratic system that has not kept up with the times, has not moved to digitalization” was slammed by Warner as one of the reasons for overclassification. Documents were described as piling up long after they had failed to meet the requirements for classification, records getting lost, because even in 2023, they need to be printed out. In line with the Sensible Classification Act, agencies would be mandated to use a single “federated and integrated IT solution” to handle issues of classification and declassification.
"We've got to invest in technological modernization, and somebody in this whole labyrinth of agencies has to make sure these changes get made across the federal government," Warner stated.
“This is a piece of legislation that can become law, and it’s desperately needed,” Jerry Moran said.AmericasBreakdown Between Biden and US Intel Community Behind Pentagon Leaks14 April, 15:52 GMTThe overhaul proposal comes as over 100 classified US military documents were posted online earlier in the year, related to the conflict in Ukraine, the United States’ espionage activities against its partners, and other national security matters. Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guardsman, was arrested and charged last month with unauthorized removal and transmission of national defense information. Before that, there were two handling of classified documents rows, involving Donald Trump, and subsequently, Joe Biden. In August 2022, the FBI raided Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on the grounds that potentially classified documents, moved there by the 45th POTUS as he left the White House, were at that location. Trump has maintained his innocence in the DOJ’s Mar-a-Lago document investigation, arguing that his presidential status at the time afforded him the authority and right to declassify any document he wanted.AmericasUS Senate Democrat Slams Biden’s Handling of Classified Documents23 January, 10:35 GMTHandling of classified docs by Joe Biden similarly made headlines, after freshly-surfaced findings in January revealed that caches of documents dating back to his tenure as vice president had been discovered by his aides on four separate occasions. Amid the hue and cry that ensued, a special counsel investigation was launched.But the mainstream US media soon lost interest in the Mar-a-Lago classified docs story in the wake of the Biden revelations. It was the Pentagon leaks that then appeared to light fire under the Justice Department, with both DOJ and the US Department of Defense probes prompted into the source of the sensitive materials, as well as handling protocols.