White House Keeping Tabs on Who Views Secret Iran Deal

A step-by-step look at how ‘unclassified’ deal text is kept hidden from public

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Hassan Rouhani / AP
February 12, 2014

The White House is keeping close tabs on who has read the text of the recently signed Iran nuclear deal, a document that has been marked as "unclassified," yet is being kept in a highly secured location.

Members of Congress and staffers with high-level security clearances are being forced by the White House to consent to top-secret security measures in order to view the deal text, which is off limits to the American public, according to a senior Senate aide familiar with the process.

The White House has come under fire from Congress and others for refusing to publicly release text of the deal, which aims to roll back portions of Iran’s contested nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in economic sanctions relief.

Precise details about the deal and the exact process to view it remain hazy.

One senior Senate source described to the Washington Free Beacon an elaborate security process aimed at tracking who views the document and ensuring that no details emerge publicly.

This is the type of treatment typically reserved for highly classified information, the source said.

All members of Congress have clearance to view the deal. Yet "only staff who hold a ‘secret’ level or higher clearance are allowed to view it"—even though the deal is officially marked as an "unclassified document," the source said.

And everyone—members and staffers alike—must submit to a series of security procedures.

Those looking to view the deal must go to a highly secured Capitol Hill office and submit to multiple security procedures meant to ensure that the Iran deal text does not become public.

"Anyone eligible to view the document must make their way to the Senate Security Office in the Capitol Visitor’s Center," the source told the Free Beacon. "This is the central depository for all classified material held inside the Capitol."

Upon arriving at the security office, "all communications devices must be stored outside the facility before entering" through the door.

Once inside the security office, "you must identify yourself, show [proper identification], and sign a document listing your name, office, and date/time of viewing," the source said.

This step is to ensure that the Obama administration can keep track of who has viewed the deal and when.

"This control document can be accessed and viewed by the administration at any time to review who is looking at the document," the source explained.

Once initial security checks are complete, the viewer is given a copy of the Iran deal.

"You may take a copy of the document into a private reading room," the source said.

However, "no photocopies are allowed, no photos can be taken, and remember, your Blackberry or iPhone is sitting outside" the room, the source said. "Upon completion of review, you must sign it back in at the desk before leaving."

The process has frustrated members and staffers alike.

"All of this for a document marked ‘unclassified’ at the top," the Senate aide said. "This is complete insanity. People are right to wonder why an agreement the president hails as a milestone is being guarded from the public like gold at Fort Knox."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.) has also described the deal text as being held in a "super secret location" that is shrouded in a "cone of silence."

"Why is it that members of Congress have to go to a super secret location, a cone of silence … to look at the deal?" Ros-Lehtinen asked a panel of nuclear experts last month during a House hearing.

Ros-Lehtinen described the secret document as "quite eye opening" and wondered why the Obama administration continues to keep it under lock and key.

"It’s a very easy to read document; one doesn’t have to be as expert," she said, urging other members on the committee to examine the deal.

"If this is such a great deal and so good for peace and diplomacy in our time why is it held in secret?" Ros-Lehtinen went on to ask. "If the administration is proud of it, I think they should highlight it."

Negotiations aimed at reaching a final deal with Iran are set to resume next week.