Democratic and Republican US senators introduced legislation on Wednesday to overhaul the vast security clearance system for protecting national secrets, spurred by damaging document leaks allegedly by a 21-year-old airman and the discovery of classified materials at top officials' homes.
Led by Democratic Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, the lawmakers said the current system classifies far too many documents and gives access to secret information to far too many people.
"That combination of overclassification and then too many people having clearances has led us to this problem," Warner told a news conference. He said more than 4 million people in the United States now have security clearance.
The issue has been in the national spotlight with the arrest last month of Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old low-ranking member of the Air National Guard accused of taking advantage of his clearance to leak top secret military intelligence records online.
Two bills addressing the issue
Warner, fellow Democrat Ron Wyden and Republicans John Cornyn and Jerry Moran introduced two bills addressing the issue. Among other things, they would tighten the rules for deciding what would be classified and set a 25-year limit for how long most documents would stay that way.
"Our democracy, our ability to govern ourselves, depends on the public getting access to information about what our government is doing and what government officials are doing," Cornyn said, adding that he expected the effort would get broad support.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has also appointed special counsels to investigate the handling of classified records by Republican former President Donald Trump and the handling of classified records from his time as vice president by current Democratic President Joe Biden.
The path forward for the bills was not immediately clear but the senators said they hoped the recent attention on the clearance issue would help.
"This is a piece of legislation that can become law and it is desperately needed for that to happen," Moran said.