Senators from both parties expressed frustration after receiving a secret briefing on a Defense Department intelligence leak and its aftermath on Wednesday afternoon.
“I would, by and large, call it bureaucratic gibberish,” Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a member of the Homeland Security Committee, told reporters after emerging from the Capitol basement, where dozens of senators were briefed of secret Pentagon documents leaked online.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., used sharper language when asked about the briefing.
“It’s just an S—Show,” he said.
“I didn’t get a very good explanation of how that could have happened,” he added. “I’m just as confused now as I was before the briefing.”
A Senate adviser said Wednesday’s reporters included Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines; Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks; the Secretary of State for Intelligence and Security, Ronald Moultrie; the Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Christopher Grady; and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
The briefing was scheduled before federal authorities arrested Massachusetts Air National Guard Jack Teixeira last week in connection with an investigation into classified documents leaked on the Internet.
Secret Defense Department documents first leaked online last month revealed details of US spying on the Russian war machine in Ukraine, confidential assessments of Ukraine’s combat capability and intelligence gathering on American allies, including South Korea and Israel.
NBC News obtained more than 50 of the leaked documents, many of which were labeled “Top Secret,” the highest level of classification.
In an interview before the briefing, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said he awaits answers about when the intelligence agencies discovered the documents had been leaked, as well as details about when the documents appeared on the Internet.
Some of Warner’s Democratic colleagues said the briefing fell short of their expectations.
“I remain deeply unhappy and dissatisfied,” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic member of the Homeland Security Panel, told reporters. “My impression from this meeting is that too many people have too much access to too much information without safety precautions or guard rails.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., indicated that despite the senators’ frustration, administration officials are taking the issue of leaked intelligence “very, very seriously.”
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., added that administration officials are “very concerned about what happened and they are working.”
Several lawmakers said the leaks prompted the need to consider reforms that could prevent future information from being publicly disclosed.
“I think we need to take a long, hard look at it, yes,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, DN.H. “And I think we need a lot more information than we have right now.”
When asked whether access to classified information needs to be restricted, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, replied, “I think there are very good reasons for that.”
Wednesday wasn’t the first time senators have expressed desperation after meeting behind closed doors with Haines.
In January, lawmakers expressed concern about the government’s system for marking and tracking thousands of classified documents after Haines refused to show them copies of classified documents kept in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Florida resort town and Joe Biden’s former office in Washington and his home in Delaware. A select group of Senators and members of the House of Representatives have since begun gaining access to these documents.