HomeTechnologyThe High-Stakes Scramble to Stop Classified Leaks

The High-Stakes Scramble to Stop Classified Leaks

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Meanwhile, at the Capitol, when they’re not fuming, lawmakers are befuddled.

“This is a serious situation. You just can’t let someone like this have access to this kind of classified information, and, if you do, you ought to at least use technology to block that person from being able to share it,” says Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican. “I mean, most of us can put controls on the internet to stop our kids from looking at pornography, for God’s sake. How hard is that?”

Pentagon officials are promising members of Congress another briefing in early June. In the meantime, lawmakers fear current protocols amount to a high-stakes game of whack-a-mole—a game the intelligence community continues to lose despite a series of high-profile leaks that led to changes in the protocols governing classified material.

In 2010, Army Private First-Class Chelsea Manning was arrested for sharing US intelligence with WikiLeaks. Then in 2013, NSA contractor Edward Snowden shared thousands of classified documents with reporters from The Guardian and The Washington Post. Lawmakers say they don’t think those leaks could happen today, but they’re still pressing the Pentagon for answers.

“I believe—and I believe this, I don’t have complete proof—that some of the places that in the past where mistakes were made, may have had stricter protocols than the whole balance of the [Department of Defense],” Warner says.

Starting in 2018, the federal government replaced its old clearance protocol—where clearances were updated every five to 10 years—with a continuous vetting system for employees and contractors with security clearances that’s supposed to be fully implemented by October 1, 2023.

“One of the things that we have moved into in this internet-driven age is a process called continuous vetting, so even once you get a top-secret security clearance, you’re supposed to be vetted on an ongoing basis,” Warner says. “That raises a whole host of questions about posting in public or otherwise on the internet that, frankly, still need to be sorted out.” While the Discord leaks investigation continues, Warner says a top priority for lawmakers is making sure “continuous vetting in an internet-driven age actually can spot anomalies.”  

Too Many Secrets

Whether an updated system will involve artificial intelligence tools remains unknown, but some senators are pushing the intelligence community to embrace new technologies to help streamline and safeguard government secrets.

“They’re going to need to come up with things like artificial intelligence and other things to be able to identify sensitive digital content so we can keep the truly important stuff secret but then make everything else available to the public,” says Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.

Since classified documents from past administrations were found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago in Florida, a Biden office and home in Delaware, and Pence’s Indiana home, lawmakers have been focusing on overclassification. Cornyn says he’s been a part of talks with Republican senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Warner on how to streamline classification protocols. 

“I think there’s just a lot of work that needs to be done and can be done, to provide more political accountability and, at the same time, raise standards for protecting truly sensitive national security information,” Cornyn says. “We need to have a better process for declassified information for historical purposes and lessons learned, so we’re going to hopefully roll out a bill here pretty soon.”

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