GOP ‘storm the SCIF’ stunt could jeopardize classified briefings

Bipartisan memo warns lawmakers of consequences for them and the House

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., speaks during a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center outside a deposition related to the House impeachment inquiry on Oct. 23, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Ethics Committee responded this week to efforts by House Republicans to access the secure facility in the basement of the Capitol during a closed-door impeachment deposition on Oct. 23, issuing a memo about breaches of security and warning lawmakers of potential consequences.

The memo, dated Thursday, reminds lawmakers that all members and staff who have access to classified information take an oath to not disclose any such information and that access to classified information and secure areas are on a “need to know” basis.

“House personnel should not attempt to gain access to classified information or controlled areas unless they have a need to access the area or information,” Ethics Chairman Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, and ranking member Kenny Marchant, a Texas Republican, wrote in the memo.

The Ethics Committee warns lawmakers that “attempts to gain unauthorized access to classified areas or purposeful breaches of basic security protocols,” could reflect badly on the House itself and could lead to potential consequences for members.

“The Committee has jurisdiction to investigate violations of House rules, regulations, laws, or other standards of conduct, including violations of House rules regarding disclosure of classified information and other potential violations of the Code of Official Conduct,” they wrote.

The House Ethics Committee has not announced any investigations into lawmakers related to the breach of the Secure Classified Information Facility, or SCIF, on Oct. 23. 

The memo explains the overlapping safeguards of protection used to prevent intrusion into secure areas of release of classified information, but stresses that the protections rely on the cooperation of anyone who enters the SCIF.

“Portable electronic devices (PEDs) should generally not be taken into any controlled area,” the memo says.

During the Oct. 23 effort by House Republicans to “storm the SCIF,” several brought their cell phones with them into the secure area.

Cell phones, which the Director of National Intelligence considers “high-vulnerability” devices, must undergo a rigorous risk-mitigation protocol to be allowed into a SCIF. They are specifically designed to thwart attempts at electronic eavesdropping, if protocols are followed.

Rep. Jim Jordan acknowledged after the incident that the cell phone mishap by his colleagues crossed a boundary that should remain in place.

“They shouldn’t do that. They’re not used to this. They walked in, as soon as they were told that, they set their phones out,” the Ohio Republican said when asked about his GOP colleagues bringing their phones into the SCIF.

“It was a mistake, No big deal. They shouldn’t do that. They understand now and it won’t happen again,” he continued.

Deutch and Marchant raised the possibility that breaches of security protocols at the SCIF in the Capitol basement could lead to decertification of the facility by the intelligence community, but did not reference the specific incident on Oct. 23. 

“This would significantly impair the House’s ability to conduct its business,” they wrote.

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