New DNI Avril Haines Discusses Overclassification at Senate Confirmation Hearing

On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, Avril Haines was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in an 84-10 vote, to serve as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). On Tuesday, as President Biden’s nominee to serve as the DNI, Ms. Haines discussed the challenges of overclassification at a public confirmation hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). Throughout her testimony, she highlighted the importance of transparency and openness. 

In response to a question by Senator Ron Wyden about recently proposed bipartisan legislation to modernize the U.S. national security classification and declassification system, Haines noted that overclassification is a perennial concern. She emphasized the need for a plan to address it and committed to developing such a plan, working with the SSCI and others on how best to modernize the classification and declassification system. She highlighted the role that technology should play in modernization efforts. 

Her testimony echoes the findings of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) in its most recent report, A Vision for the Digital Age: Modernization of the U.S. National Security Classification and Declassification System. Haines spoke of the need for any modernization plan to include technology. The PIDB agrees with Haines’ testimony. Any modernization effort, to be successful, must include advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – technologies that Intelligence Community agencies are already using for mission-driven purposes. To support the use of advanced technologies the PIDB emphasizes the importance of developing and implementing robust and uniform data standards that will support advanced technologies in classification and declassification. If implemented, the PIDB’s recommendations have the potential to reduce overclassification by making classification more precise and declassification more effective and efficient. 

The PIDB believes that the DNI has a critical Executive branch role in reducing overclassification, limiting unnecessary classification, and modernizing processes for classifying and declassifying information. It is why the PIDB recommended that the DNI serve as the Executive Agent, responsible to the President for leading interagency implementation efforts.

The PIDB stands ready to assist President Biden and DNI Haines as they seek to modernize the classification and declassification system.

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