July 15, 2004

Wyden, Lott Propose Revamping National Security Classification Systems

Senators' bill creates Independent National Security Classification Board to recommend changes to classification standards and process and reexamine classification decisions

Washington, DC - U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) today introduced legislation to revamp the way intelligence information becomes classified. The proposed bipartisan legislation would create an Independent National Security Classification Board to review and make recommendations on altering the current classification standards and process, and also to serve as a standing body to reexamine classification decisions at the request of Congress and certain Executive Branch agencies. "We need clear standards and procedures to ensure a reasonable balance between the need for citizens to have access to information and the need to protect national security," said Wyden. "This unbiased, independent Board will apply some common sense to the national security classification system." The legislation introduced by Wyden and Lott, along with original co-sponsors Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), would set up a three-person Classification Board, with the President and the bipartisan leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives each recommending one member, subject to Senate confirmation. The Board would have two key tasks: 1) To review and make recommendations on the standards and process used to classify information for national security purposes; 2) To serve as a standing body to act on Congressional and certain Executive Branch requests to reexamine classification decisions. This bill would, for the first time, give Congress an independent body to which it can appeal a national security classification decision. It would also clarify and streamline the process by which classification decisions are made, in turn leading to increased accountability and transparency for the American people. The Board would look at national security classification across all government agencies. The proposed legislation authorizes $2 million in the first year for the Board to be set up. It will be independently housed outside of any government organization. For the past 6 weeks, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA have been wrestling over what portions of the report on Iraq can be made public. In the beginning, the CIA redacted significant numbers of pages of the report. It was only because of a strong, bipartisan effort that large portions of the report are available to the public today.