WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) reintroduced legislation to enhance congressional accountability and oversight of the national security classification system, codify the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), set up a streamlined congressional appeal of classification decisions, and establish whistleblower-type protections for employees that challenge classification decisions. The Transparency in Classification Act would also clarify that documents critical to public decision-making, such as the recent report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi or the ODNI report on foreign interference in the 2020 elections, are subject to being challenged to ensure they are classified only for national security reasons, not to hide embarrassing information from the public.
“The ODNI report detailing Russian and Iranian interference in the 2020 election and the evidence of Mohamed bin Salman’s involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi show the extent to which the Trump administration abused the classification system for political gain,” said Murphy. “Overclassification for political purposes undermines Congress’s ability to hold the executive branch accountable and unnecessarily keeps the American public in the dark. Regardless of the administration, protecting the integrity of the classification system is a matter of national security—not politics. We’ve seen the serious harm that politicization of intelligence can cause, and our legislation restores congressional oversight and supports President Biden as he works to unravel the damage done by his predecessor.”
“While it is vitally important to protect our country’s true security secrets, there is an ignominious history of government officials abusing the classification system to hide inconvenient facts, rather than to protect sensitive information. Donald Trump’s disgraceful decision to shield Mohamed bin Salman from accountability for ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the CIA’s efforts to bury any information about government torture, and secret interpretations of surveillance laws are just a few examples. More transparency and stronger Congressional oversight are an important step toward creating a more effective classification system,” said Wyden.
Murphy consistently pressed the Trump administration on their abuse of the classifications system for political gain. Murphy pressed for the declassification of the 2019 National Intelligence Estimates regarding Russian efforts to interfere in our elections. The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) has not yet provided a response to this inquiry. Murphy issued an appeal to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) to declassify the War Powers Notification relating to the killing of Qasem Soleimani in January. Murphy’s appeal was denied, and he appealed to the PIDB. Murphy also called on the PIDB to review the classification of a memo by Jennifer Williams concerning a Pence-Zelensky telephone call relating to the Ukraine impeachment and the report to Congress on the death of Jamal Khashoggi; the PIDB has said it will issue its opinion this year. Murphy has also called on the National Archive’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) to investigate systematic abuse of the classification by the Trump Administration for political ends. Finally, Murphy called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess whether the Trump administration had hidden material from the American public by over-classifying information that is not actually legally classifiable or is being classified only to hide embarrassing or politically damaging information.
Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has long fought for more transparency into the government intelligence and national security policy, including fixing the broken declassification system. He authored the law requiring the release of an unclassified report on Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, and secured a commitment from Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to finally make that report public.