Kamala Harris lifts lid on classified security briefings: ‘I can tell you what it’s like’

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Kamala Harris made history as the first woman and first American of colour to hold the position of Vice President. As US President Joe Biden’s second-in-command, she could well go on to become the leader of the free world one day. Mr Biden was no doubt impressed by the 56-year-old’s incredible career progression, as Ms Harris has served as Senator for California, Attorney General for California and District Attorney for San Francisco.

In her four-year term in the Senate, she was also a valued member of the Select Committee on Intelligence.

And Ms Harris was not afraid to give insight into the inner workings of Washington politics in her memoir, The Truths We Hold.

Ms Harris joined the Committee days after the NSA, CIA and FBI declassified their assessment that Russia conducted multiple cyber operations on the US with the intention to influence the 2016 election.

Given ex-US President Donald Trump had just entered the White House, Ms Harris argued her role in the Committee was now “one of the most consequential undertakings in the history of the Senate”.

Admitting there’s a “real limit” to what she can disclose, she writes: “There are times when the intelligence community releases its assessments to the public.

“Twice a week, for two hours at a time, members of the Committee get together behind closed doors to meet with the men and women who lead our intelligence agencies and receive briefings on the latest information.

“I can’t tell you the details of what we talk about but I can tell you what it’s like.

“For starters, the room we gather in is known as a SCIF.”

A sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF, is an enclosed area within a state building used to process classified information.

Ms Harris continues: “It has been designed to prevent eavesdropping of any kind.

“Before we enter, we have to put our mobile phones in a cupboard outside the door.

“Inside we take classified notes by hand and even those must be kept locked away in the SCIF.”

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When the Committee holds public hearings, observers tend to notice that Democrats sit on one side and Republicans on the other.

But, according to Ms Harris, it is a very different scene behind closed doors as Senators “take off their jackets” and “get down to business”.

She continues: “It’s not just the absence of cameras and the seating arrangement that changes the dynamic, it is the work itself.

“The rigid partisanship that has paralysed much of Washington somehow fades away as we enter the room.

“We are, all of us, keenly focused on the work we are undertaking.

“There is simply no room for anything other than a focus on America’s national security and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

“The public can’t be there, nor the media, nor other Senators who aren’t on the Committee ‒ it’s just us, to do oversight with global reach.

“It is invigorating, even inspiring. Even in Washington, some things can be bigger than politics.” 

Kamala Harris’ The Truths We Hold: An American Journey was published by Penguin in 2019. It is available here. 

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