WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) today announced bipartisan legislation to reform the security classification system in order to reduce overclassification, prevent mishandling of classified information, promote better use of intelligence, and enhance public trust.
“The government systematically overclassifies too much information, at a dangerous cost to both the nation’s security and the public trust. At the same time, we too often fail to protect the nation’s most important secrets. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I think it is clear that our security classification system is badly in need of change,” said Sen. Warner. “Given the explosion in digital records, the status quo is no longer tenable. We’ve got too many people with access to a system that is devoid of accountability and has grown increasingly byzantine, bureaucratic, and outmoded. We need to protect our national security secrets, and then declassify those secrets when protections are no longer necessary. It’s time for Congress to take action and establish accountability.”
“Controlling access to sensitive information enables the U.S. to remain at least one step ahead of its adversaries, but declassification gives us the opportunity to work with our allies around the world and show the American people what their government is doing,” said Sen. Cornyn. “These bills would modernize the process for classification, ensure the safety and security of what should be classified, and make the declassification process more efficient as we seek to strike the delicate balance between transparency and secrecy.”
“Public access to government information is vital to a democratic society. Yet, as has been the case for many years, far too many records are classified. And, because of obsolete technology, far too few of those records ever see the light of day, even after they no longer meet the requirements for classification. One necessary step in addressing this crisis is to put someone in charge of modernizing the system so that records are tracked and then declassified and released when appropriate,” Sen. Wyden said. “This legislation accomplishes that goal by designating the DNI as the Executive Agent for Classification and Declassification, a reform that Senator Moran and I have been pushing for years. It is also critical that the rules that govern declassification of records be updated and strengthened and that the entities responsible for oversight of the system be empowered.”
“In the digital age, our classification system is absorbing a flood of new, critical information,” said Sen. Moran. “When it comes to declassifying documents, our current analog declassification process is about as effective as using an eye dropper to drain a flood. These deficiencies undermine our national security, and a backlog of unnecessary classified material is harming our ability to protect what should be secret from our enemies. We are long overdue for an overhaul that begins with an up-to-date declassification system in order to better secure our national secrets, and it begins with the legislation introduced today.”
The Classification Reform Act of 2023 will undertake significant reforms to the classification process. Among other steps, it will establish a new system of governance and accountability for the security classification system. It also provides that information may only be or remain classified where the harm to national security reasonably expected from disclosure outweighs the public interest. The legislation sets the maximum period for classification at 25 years, allowing only agency heads or the president to extend classification protections beyond that duration. In addition, the legislation also takes several other substantive steps to improve security while expanding transparency, including by establishing minimum standards for executive branch insider threat programs and mandating a security review 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. In addition to Sens. Warner, Cornyn, Wyden and Moran, the legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Bob Casey (D-PA).
In addition, the Sensible Classification Act of 2023 will codify classification authority, streamline the processes for declassification, dedicate additional resources to the issue of declassification, invest in new technology to assist with classification reviews, and undertake an evaluation of existing security clearances and their justifications to identify potential areas for additional reforms. In addition to Sens. Warner, Cornyn, Wyden and Moran, the legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Bob Casey (D-PA).
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