Legislators’ intelligence operatives, who are also terrified and terrified of accidentally leaking secrets, handle classified material as further protection against distracted members of Congress. To obtain security clearance, these workers are subject to purposeful intimidation, intrusive and multi-step background checks conducted by the Pentagon or the FBI (and sometimes both). Even after approval, new hires are not allowed to start work unless they sign a non-disclosure agreement—effectively a lifetime seal.
“Only certain staff members can have classified information at the Capitol. Usually, they put it on our intelligence committee, and they walk around with a locked bag with it in it,” the Senate Intelligence Committee said. Vice Chairman Rubio said. “So you can’t have it copied and sent to you as an email attachment.”
Even the leaders of the Capitol have no special authority when it comes to viewing American secrets. “They’d bring them in. I’d read them. They’d take them out. So they couldn’t even stay on my desk,” Durbin said. “I don’t understand why the executive branch has taken such a lax approach to this that our three key elected officials who have these documents don’t explain why.”
Other committees can request to see classified material held by the Intelligence Committee. If the request is approved by the task force, the material will be locked up and handed over to other lawmakers with a stern warning: “Such material should be accompanied by oral or written notice advising the recipient of their responsibility to safeguard the material.” Each night, sensitive materials must be returned to the safety of SCIF. Written records of covert travel are required.
This is why there has been such bipartisan confusion in the Capitol lately: How could one person misplace such a sensitive document? Not to mention their batches?
“I don’t know how you do it. That’s the problem, but we’re talking about the president and the vice president, which is a little bit different,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who serves on the Judiciary Committee. top Republican. “I do not know I do not know.”
So restrictive is it that Rubio doesn’t even believe news reports claiming to have found classified documents dating back to Biden’s Senate days. He called the reports “incomprehensible”.
“I’ve heard it in the media. It’s never been confirmed to me … that would be weird,” Rubio said. “So, frankly, I don’t know, in the Senate, how that’s possible.”
Another puzzling thing is that the technology used in the Capitol is common in Washington, especially the safe room used to protect the material. “The situation room is a SCIF. There’s a SCIF in the military. There’s a SCIF in the FBI,” said Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois. “I can’t explain it — there’s no excuses. At no time can there be excuses for mishandling of documents.”
Quigley, a Democrat who teaches a course on “Contemporary American Intelligence” at the University of Chicago, said the scandal revealed an unacceptable level of arrogance in the executive branch. As Quigley points out, classified material is securely handled by agencies across the United States, well beyond the Beltway. The FBI shares sensitive intelligence with local police departments from coast to coast. Classified documents are also housed in some academic institutions. Some of the files were shared with the private sector, such as military contractors, Quigley said. In short, it appears to be an executive branch issue, and he wants Congress to be optimistic about taking action to rein in the White House’s haphazard handling of classified material.
“Of course we have to, because we’re the ones who make the laws and allow people to have classified information,” Quigley said.
Numerous security procedures at the Capitol are in place to prevent lawmakers from doing what Biden, Trump and Pence have done. It seems to be working. “We have classifications for a reason,” Warner told reporters at the Capitol. “Maybe we’re over-categorizing, but unless the rules change, you have to.”
Warner said his committee’s job now is to make sure what works in the Capitol is replicated in the executive branch. “We had a problem with our system,” Warner said, “and we had to fix that.”
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