WASHINGTON – Responding to a series of intelligence breaches over the last year, senators on Wednesday introduced legislation that would require the National Archives to screen documents leaving the White House for classified material.
Classified material was found at the homes of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump, and former Vice President Mike Pence. And a 21-year-old Air National Guard member is accused of leaking hundreds of Pentagon assessments in an online chatroom.
Under two bills unveiled Wednesday, anytime a president seeks to classify a mix of official and unofficial papers as personal records, the archivist would first have to conduct a security review to ensure nothing is classified. In the cases of Biden, Trump, and Pence, classified material was found commingled with personal records.
“The notion that there was no checking process by the archivist so that that becomes a formal step rather than a ‘nice to do,’ I think, is terribly important,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The legislation would require all 18 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community to develop an insider threat program and monitor user activity on all classified networks for possible signs of a breach. The person accused of leaking Pentagon assessments is alleged to have printed out some of the documents and folded them to smuggle them out of authorized areas.
Also included are several requirements to push U.S. intelligence to declassify more information and restrict how secrets are widely shared. They include an effective “tax” on agencies based on how many records they generate and boosting funding for the U.S. Public Interest Declassification Board, a group of experts that advises the White House on classification issues.
“We have such a mass of classified information and we aren’t putting enough resources against managing documents, against determining what’s classified and not classified,” said Ezra Cohen, a former chairman of the board and current member. “Underfunding leads to lax control.”
Long a priority of many on the intelligence committee, overhauling declassification was raised by some senators who spoke Wednesday as a long-term way to limit breaches and protect the most important U.S. secrets.
An estimated 4 million people hold security clearances. And many U.S. officials have long acknowledged spy agencies classify too much information and declassify too little, using outdated systems and far too few people to review what can be released.
“It's an expensive system that we have. It's outdated," said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas. "We're a better country than what the system allows us to be.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., noted that Avril Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, wrote in a January 2022 letter that “deficiencies in the current classification system undermine our national security, as well as critical democratic objectives."
“My view is the protection of sources and methods and declassification reform go hand in hand,” Wyden said. “That’s because it’s a lot easier to protect important secrets when you’re not acting like everything is a secret.”
The National Archives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.