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US Intel Chief Urges ‘Measured’ Response to Pentagon Discord Leak

FILE - Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies during a Senate Armed Services hearing to examine worldwide threats on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 10, 2022.
FILE - Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies during a Senate Armed Services hearing to examine worldwide threats on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 10, 2022.

The top U.S. intelligence official wants the country to learn “the right lessons” and not overreact following the leak of hundreds of classified documents on a social media platform popular with gamers.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines described the massive leak, which involved the disclosure of information about the war in Ukraine and intelligence gathered by the U.S. on both adversaries and allies as “just deeply depressing … very frustrating.”

But she also cautioned against rushing to implement changes to security protocols that could hamper the ability of the U.S. to share and make effective use of intelligence in the future.

“I think we will always, in any scenario, in any incident that occurs, learn lessons once we understand what happened and ensure that we try to do a better job protecting our information moving forward,” Haines told an audience Wednesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“What I think we all try to do is learn the right lessons and then not over-torque as a consequence,” she added. “What I mean by that is to try to promote better practices, while at the same time not undermining our capacity to do appropriate sharing and to engage in our mission.”

A U.S. Air National Guardsman, 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, was arrested earlier this month and is currently facing multiple charges for removing the documents from a secured work environment, taking them home and then posting the information or photos of the documents for a small group on Discord.

The New York Times reported last week, however, that Teixeira may also have shared classified information on a publicly listed YouTube channel with hundreds of members.

The Pentagon has described the leak as a “deliberate criminal act” and last week announced it has already begun culling distribution lists and limiting who has access to classified information.

On Sunday, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee told ABC News that other agencies, and not just the military, might need to start placing additional limits on who can access top secret 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," said Democratic Senator Mark Warner, whose committee oversees the country’s intelligence agencies.

“We need somebody fully in charge of the whole classification process, and I think for those classified documents, there ought to be a smaller universe," he added.

Other U.S. lawmakers have also called for reform.

"If you're going to give someone with this level of emotional maturity access to the information, why weren't we using technology to stop him from sharing?" Republican Senator John Kennedy said after a recent classified briefing.

But the U.S. intelligence chief on Monday called for a “measured” approach, noting that the U.S decision to widely share, and in some cases declassify, intelligence helped undermine Russia’s influence operations in the run-up to its invasion of Ukraine, and instead galvanized support for Kyiv.

“During the course of the Ukraine conflict, we went through a very careful process for ourselves to try to ensure that we could disclose as much information as we felt we could, while still preserving essentially our sources and methods. And I think that was an appropriate thing to do,” Haines said.

“There is always risk that comes with that,” she added. “But I think there's also the benefit it can have for national security and foreign policy. And that's, of course, what our ultimate mission is.”