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Podcast: How to fix the US government's classified information problem with Jane Harman

Photograph of Jane Harman with the logo of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: the podcast


Listen: Maintaining secrecy can be invigorating, whether you're a child with hidden treasures or a CIA agent safeguarding classified information. However, the more secrets you bear, the heavier the burden becomes. This week’s guest, Jane Harman, who served nine terms in Congress and was a ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee after 9/11, understands the weight of secrecy firsthand.

While there are valid justifications for classifying information, Harman asserts that the US government has grappled with an issue of excessive classification for decades. "A bad reason to classify is to protect your turf—you don't want other people to know what you know in order to protect yourself from embarrassment."

The 9/11 Commission revealed that inadequate information-sharing between agencies like the CIA, FBI, and NSA hindered the government's ability to prevent the tragic terrorist attacks. One significant factor contributing to this failure was the over-classification of information. Each year, approximately 50 million documents are estimated to be classified, though the exact count remains elusive—not due to classification, but because the government struggles to effectively manage the vast volume. In the words of former US Solicitor General Erwin Griswold, some “secrets are not worth keeping.”

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