Senator Collins Questions Secretary of the Air Force on Alarming Leak of Classified Document

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ exchange with Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall

Washington, D.C.— At a hearing to review the fiscal year 2024 budget request for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, questioned the Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall about the alarming leak of classified documents by a junior member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.  The disclosures allegedly contained highly sensitive national security information, which has been widely reported in the press.

At the hearing, Senator Collins:

As I read the press reports about the Airman First Class, who allegedly took perhaps hundreds of sensitive classified documents, the first thing that came to my mind is, whatever happened to need-to-know? That is the principle that is supposed to oversee and restrict access to sensitive, classified information. Instead, allegedly, this Airman First Class used the JWICS system, the classified internet system, to access all sorts of sensitive classified documents that had absolutely nothing to do with his job. Is the need-to-know principle still in place?

Secretary Kendall:

Senator Collins, it is very much in place. General Brown mentioned the letter that the Secretary of Defense had put out, tasking review across the entirety of the department in very great detail, of all of our security practices. The two chiefs and I put out a letter this morning, which emphasized the point that you just made about need-to-know. We need to enforce it much more rigorously than it appears to have been in this case. I will say that we don't know all the facts here yet. There is a criminal investigation going on. That's been the first priority, to make sure that wasn't interfered with. But we've turned on three other things to look at this across the board. I've tasked our inspector general to go look at the unit and anything associated with this leak that could have gone wrong, from the point of view of implementing our policies, to see what things allowed this to happen, to get to Senator Tester's initial question. We're turning on a complete review of our policies themselves within the staff, to make sure our policies are adequate. And that will be illuminated by what we learn about what happened in this incident. We are asking the entire force to do a stand down, to review their security practices, to conduct training as necessary, respond to the Secretary of Defense's guidance. There is a full court press going on about this. We're all disturbed about it. And we're working very, very hard to get to the bottom of it and take corrective actions.

Senator Collins:

Thank you, Mr. Secretary, one follow up question for you on this issue. And that is, it appears that this was going on for many months without the airman allegedly being caught. And when he was caught, it was because of investigative journalism, not the controls within the Air Force. That is equally disturbing.

Secretary Kendall:

Well, that is absolutely one of the things we'll be looking at. Apparently, he shared it, from press reports, with a group of friends in a chat group that was supposed to be isolated. It got out of that group, but it was there for, as you say, for a period of months. It got out of that group, and there's some press reports, more recently, about it being disseminated by some other people. We're going to get to the bottom of all of that. We have, obviously, we have to tighten up our processes and our practices to make sure this doesn't happen again.


As the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins is pressing forward with Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) to hold subcommittee hearings on the President’s budget request.  These hearings provide an important opportunity to assess our country’s needs for the coming year and will help guide Senators Collins and Murray’s efforts to write the annual government funding bills.