Senators Moran and Wyden Urge the President to Change Executive Order on Classification and Declassification

A letter sent to President Biden in May 2022 by Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) urged the President and the National Security Council to address “long-overdue reform demands” by revising Executive Order (E.O) 13526, Classified National Security Information. In addition to calling for modernization, the letter emphasizes the need for “meaningful investments” in “modernizing technologies necessary to adapt the classification and declassification system to a digital environment.” Highlighting the growing impact of digital information on U.S. national security, the Senators’ appeal to the White House coincides with a flurry of recent and more long-standing initiatives in the Executive Branch, as well as Congress, that have pushed for greater transparency and the modernization of classification management across the federal government.

The Wall Street Journal  recently reported that the Biden administration is using declassification to support national security objectives. For instance, it has effectively declassified sensitive information in near real time to expose details of Russia’s preparations and setbacks in its invasion of Ukraine. These disclosures involved both the public release of evidence—including photographs—in advance of Russian disinformation, as well as the loosening of restrictions to permit greater and more timely information sharing with the government of Ukraine.

In January this year, Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), responded to an inquiry from Senators Wyden and Moran, with a letter to Congress in which she judged 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.” DNI Haines’ letter to the Senators echoed concerns that she first expressed during her Senate confirmation hearing in January 2021, as well as the PIDB’s assertions in its 2020 Report to the President on the national security imperative to modernize the classification system.

Senators Moran and Wyden have long led bipartisan initiatives in the Senate to reduce over-classification, improve transparency, and modernize declassification. They co-sponsored the  “Declassification Reform Act of 2020, which they discussed at the virtual public meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) on October 7, 2020. That legislation, as well as the Senators’ May 2022 letter to President Biden, aligns with PIDB Recommendations and Reports since 2008. In particular, the PIDB’s 2020 Report to the President noted: “There is widespread, bipartisan recognition that the Government classifies too much information for too long, at great and unnecessary cost to taxpayers. This problem is getting worse, as the volume of classified information grows at an increasing rate. Current policies, practices, and technologies for managing classified information must be modernized for the digital age.”

Importantly, this bipartisan Congressional support for such critical improvements in the system for managing national security information now aligns closely with the immediate concerns of the leadership of the national intelligence community and the military—and the consistent recommendations of the PIDB. As the PIDB’s current Chairman Ezra Cohen told The Wall Street Journal: “Modernizing the classification system is an imperative that will enable the government to better address the threats facing our nation. Overcoming entrenched classification practices that no longer serve the purpose of protecting our country will prove difficult. The Board looks forward to continuing to advise the President and Congress on the best way to address this challenge.” 

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