National Security

Top Biden official says information classification system undermines national security, public trust

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines answers a question during a House Intelligence Committee hearing to discuss diversity in the intelligence community on Wednesday, October 27, 2021.
Greg Nash

The intelligence community’s decision to broadly classify much of its information and documents erodes public trust in the government and impedes decisionmaking, National Intelligence Director Avril Haines said in a letter to lawmakers on Thursday.

The acknowledgement comes in response to an October letter from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), longtime critics of a classification system they say is in need of reform.

Haines backed that view, writing that “deficiencies in the current classification system undermine our national security, as well as critical democratic objectives, by impeding our ability to share information in a timely manner, be that sharing with our intelligence partners, our oversight bodies, or, when appropriate, with the general public.” 

“This reduces the Intelligence Community’s (IC) capacity to effectively support senior policymaker decision-making, and further erodes the basic trust that our citizens have in their government,” Haines continued.

The senators last year called the classification system “obsolete,” while good governance and transparency groups have argued that the system can be overly restrictive, allowing the government to withhold important information or conceal failures from the public.

Government employees face massive consequences for leaking such information, while attempts to obtain it through public records requests can require litigation that drags on for years.

Haines’s letter references some included examples of the intelligence community’s efforts to reform the system, but ironically, those details are excluded from the public release of her letter, as it could only be considered unclassified “upon removal of attachments.”

“Director Haines clearly recognizes that the current broken classification system harms U.S. national security while eroding the public’s trust in government. The DNI has offered to work with us to reform the system and, as members of the Senate Intelligence and Appropriations Committees, we intend to do so,” Wyden and Moran said in a joint statement.

Tags Avril Haines information classification Jerry Moran Ron Wyden

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