The US government’s system for labeling and tracking classified documents appears to be broken, with potentially serious consequences for the country’s national security, lawmakers, former officials and academics said Tuesday.

News that classified documents were found in the private home of former Vice President Mike Pence marks the latest in a series of revelations involving the Trump and Obama administrations, raising questions about how the government labels material as secret and how it handles those documents, including after a president leaves office.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers said there was a «systemic failure» if the Obama and Trump administrations were unable to keep track of classified documents after their terms ended.

«What’s happening here is my reaction,» said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee. “Look, there is obviously a systemic problem in the executive branch. Talking about two successive administrations of two different parties with officials at the highest level who have documents in their possession in places where they do not belong.

Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, said: “No one is above the law. I don’t know how someone ends up with classified documents. Everyone should explain how they end up with classified documents.»

Assistants and officials charged with ensuring that secret documents are always in a «chain of custody» appear to be failing at the job, said Loch Johnson, an intelligence scholar and emeritus professor of public and international affairs at the University of Georgia. . .

«It’s your job to make sure these busy policymakers understand the importance of classification and put the documents back in their proper place,» said Johnson, who was a congressional aide on intelligence committees and advised previous administrations on intelligence matters. .

“There is an incredible amount of carelessness in the handling of these documents that is really quite disconcerting,” Johnson said. «We need strong penalties for people in the chain of custody who don’t take their job seriously enough.»

White House staff members are supposed to log each classified document, assign it a number, and track it so the document can be accounted for at all times. Former officials say the process fell apart a bit during the Trump administration, due to the habits of the president and some inexperienced staff members. But supporters of the former president have denied that description.

In Congress, legislators and authorized staff members have to follow strict rules and review material in secure rooms.

“When I read a document, I have to sign it and return it before I leave there,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

«What you have to look at is the whole nature of what is classified and what is not, and under what circumstances.»

“But until that happens,” he said, “it should be such that they are kept in places that do not create any risk to national interests or security.”

Elizabeth Goitein, a national security law expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, a think tank at New York University School of Law, said the root of the problem is the sheer volume of material that is sealed off as secret. , overwhelming the White House and the federal government. organisms that try to make decisions and govern.

“You have 50 million ranking decisions every year, 90% of which are probably unnecessary. That’s a lot of rules that must be followed every hour of every day. And some of that is going to slide off,” said Goitein, a leading expert on overclassification.

Presidential transitions, particularly rushed transitions, can add to the challenge of managing sensitive government documents, he said.

“I think that the chain of custody becomes much more problematic in the context of a presidential transition. That may be part of what we’re seeing here, especially when those transitions are rushed,” Goitein said.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell that «there also needs to be a vision of what happens when people leave that office, the presidency and the vice presidency.»

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the consequences of failing to track down secret documents had troubling ramifications for national security.

“Clearly we don’t have an effective management system to monitor where classified documents go and how they are retrieved,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. «And look, carelessness doesn’t look good on a president or a vice president, whether current or past, and it’s an embarrassment to us, and it’s a potential threat to national security.»

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, DR.I., said the executive branch has sometimes abused the power to classify and declassify documents. Executive branch officials will strategically declassify certain documents, for example, when doing so gives them the advantage in handling congressional oversight, Whitehouse said.

In such cases, he said, «the Legislative Branch cannot respond in kind, because the rebuttal is reserved.»

“Perhaps one good thing to come out of this mess is that we get a review of what is clearly a flawed process and one that is often used to gain strategic advantage against legislative oversight,” Whitehouse said.

Goitein and others said the recent discoveries of classified documents present a political opportunity for the White House, and possibly Congress, to finally address the problem.

For decades, current and former officials and Congress have warned about the growing problem of labeling too much information as secret or «overclassified.»

In 2004, the 9/11 Commission Reportwhich examined how the federal government failed to heed warning signs before the attacks of September 11, 2001, warned that «current security requirements encourage overclassification.»

Successive presidents have issued executive orders to try to curb the practice, as well as expedite the declassification of older documents. But material related to the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco was not declassified until more than 50 years later. Some documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 have recently been released, and others remain classified.

“There are classifieds, and then there are classified”former President Barack Obama said in 2016. “There are things that are really top secret, top secret, and there are things that come up to the president or the secretary of state that you might not want on the transom or on the air. by cable. but basically it’s stuff you could get open source.»

Goitein and others have proposed standardizing and simplifying classification rules and limiting the discretion of those making classification judgments. Goitein has called for sanctions to be introduced for officials who unnecessarily label material as secret. At the moment, the overwhelming incentive for the federal bureaucracy is to label information secret, experts said.

Critics of the classification system have long argued that by classifying an unmanageable amount of information as secret, the government could ultimately jeopardize the genuine secrets that need to be safeguarded.

In 1997, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, DN.Y., oversaw a bipartisan report that recommended reducing government secrecy while ensuring the protection of confidential information vital to the nation’s national security.

“The best way to ensure that secrecy is respected and that the most important secrets remain secret is for secrecy to return to its limited but necessary role,” the report says. «Secrets can be protected more effectively if overall secrecy is reduced.»

Moynihan’s recommendations were not enacted.

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