Murphy, Wyden Introduce Legislation to Prevent Politicization of Classified Information, Establish Congressional Oversight of Classification System

Legislation Comes As Trump Administration Routinely Abuses Classification System for Political Gain, Hides Election Interference Evidence from American Public Ahead of Presidential Elections

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Wednesday introduced legislation to enhance Congressional accountability and oversight of the United States information classification system, codify the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP),establish 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, like War Powers Notifications, must be submitted at least partially in unclassified format. You can read more about the Transparency in Classification Act here.

“There is serious evidence that the Russians are trying to interfere in the upcoming election, and the Trump administration is trying to hide it,” said Murphy. “The Trump Administration’s routine abuse of the information classification system for political gain is deeply troubling. To some extent, every Administration tries to hold damaging information close, but this Administration has taken it to a new level. I’m introducing legislation to restore Congress’ oversight and accountability of the classification process so we can prevent future abuse. We’ve learned the hard way that U.S. national security suffers when our intelligence is politicized.”

“The serious and accelerating abuses of the classification system by the Trump Administration have highlighted the urgent need for reform,” Wyden said. “Not only does the executive branch make unilateral and often politicized classification decisions, but the process itself suffers from a lack of transparency and dissenting voices. The classification and declassification system, like all other government functions, belongs to the American people. Their representatives must be provided adequate tools to push for the declassification and release of information in the public interest.”

“Senator Murphy has identified a major loophole in current classification policy. Too often secrecy is used to block or derail important public policy debates without a valid national security justification. Giving Members of Congress the authority to challenge dubious classification decisions will help to put the classification system on a sound footing and to improve the policymaking process,” said Steven Aftergood, Federation of American Scientists.

“The National Security Archive, a nongovernmental, not-for-profit, and nonpartisan research organization and freedom-of-information proponent, enthusiastically endorses Senator Murphy’s Transparency in Classification Act of 2020.  This Act would be of considerable importance and interest to supporters of open government.  By codifying the role of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) as a recourse for challenging U.S. government classification decisions, the proposal would substantially strengthen the role of that entity. Of particular value are the provisions granting ISCAP the authority to conduct expedited review of Congressional classification challenges because it would enhance Congress’s crucial oversight role of Executive Branch activities.  Moreover, the provision for a Public Observer in ISCAP deliberations is an outstanding step toward greater accountability in the declassification process. The provision concerning agency responses to the War Powers Resolution is a bonus in light of recent executive action denying Congress the report on the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.  By requiring that future reports be submitted in unclassified form (although a classified annex would be permissible), it would help prevent the Executive Branch from stonewalling Congress again,” said National Security Archive.

“The Transparency in Classification Act of 2020, introduced by Sen. Murphy, is a smart and significant step towards improving the responsiveness of the Executive branch to declassification requests that are intended to protect Congress’s and the public’s right to know. All too often classification decisions are a smokescreen to prevent accountability for governmental errors, misdeeds, and misjudgments, and Sens. Murphy and Wyden’s bill strives to reset the balance in favor of the American people and transparency,” said Daniel Schuman, Policy Director at Demand Progress.

“Overclassification undermines congressional oversight of the decisions the Executive Branch makes without the American public’s knowledge or consent. The Transparency in Classification Act would provide members of Congress with a critical mechanism to challenge broad classification decisions, including excessive classification that keeps the public in the dark about the federal government’s intent to engage in war,” said Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director at Open The Government.

Murphy has been consistent in pressing the administration on their abuse of the classifications system for political gain. Last month, Murphy pressed for the declassification of the 2020 and 2019 National Intelligence Estimates regarding Russian efforts to interfere in our elections urging for a response by October 1, 2020. In July, 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. Murphy called on the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) to review the classification of a memo by Jennifer Williams concerning a Pence-Zelensky telephone call and the report to Congress on the death of Jamal Khashoggi. Murphy has also called on the National Archive’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) to investigate systematic abuse of the classification for political ends. In February, Murphy called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess whether the Trump administration has 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.

Senator Wyden has spent his Senate career pushing against excessive government secrecy and to bring new public accountability to a host of issues and government programs. His efforts include an influential report on government secrecy with former-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, championing the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, demanding declassification of information about the murder of Washington Post Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and bipartisan legislation to fix the nation’s broken declassification system

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