US classified docs leak not total ‘surprise’ but shows system needs reforms: Senate intel chair

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(WASHINGTON) — Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner on Sunday said the online leaks of classified U.S. military and intelligence documents — allegedly by an airman working in IT at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts — weren’t completely unexpected but underscored how the process for secret-keeping needs to be reformed.

“This is a problem that we shouldn’t be totally surprised at,” Warner, D-Va., told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

“We’ve known this has been a problem. We actually have to have, I believe, Congress intervene,” Warner went on to say. “And we have to do a better job.”

He said there were multiple larger issues, including the over-classification of documents; the lack of a single authority overseeing the system who could enforce uniform regulations such as restrictions on how many copies someone can make; and the ability of too many people with clearances to access documents unnecessarily.

“We way over-classify documents. … Once we get to that highest level of classification, we maybe have too many folks taking a look at them. Over 4 million people with clearances. So, let’s classify less,” Warner said, while still calling for less access to the “most-classified documents.”

Another solution he suggested was oversight: “I believe we need somebody fully in charge of the classification process.”

The Air National Guardsman who is suspected in the leaks, 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, was arrested on April 13 and has been charged with unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information and willful retention of classified documents.

Teixeira has not yet entered a plea. Reports have indicated he was driven by a desire to impress friends online.

“This individual was literally just an IT tech. There’s no reason that that person should be able to see the full document,” Warner said on Sunday. “You may have to see the header, but the actual contents — there’s ways to make this safer.”

If Teixeira is “proven to be … the leader, he needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Warner said.

He urged “continuous vetting” of those with clearances, which he indicated could include review of ongoing social media activity. The more troubling complication in these leaks, he said, was the apparent use of the digital platform Discord, which is used for popular but private chat rooms.

“That raises a whole series of other questions I don’t think we’ve sorted through enough,” he said.

Raddatz also pressed Warner about the prolonged absence on Capitol Hill of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is currently recovering at home after she was diagnosed with shingles in February and briefly hospitalized.

Feinstein, the oldest member in Congress, serves with Warner on the Senate Intelligence Committee and is a key vote for Democrats on the Judiciary Committee as well. Some lawmakers have called on her to step down in recent weeks, given that her absence has stalled the process to confirm President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees.

“Should she resign?” Raddatz asked Warner.

“I’m hopeful that Dianne will return as soon as possible,” he responded. “She’s been a great senator, but my hope is she’ll get back to work as soon as possible.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Hutzler and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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