From Donald Trump to Joe Biden, presidents have made a lot of news for keeping classified documents in their homes and offices. Presidential classification and declassification is a mysterious process that often unfolds away from public view. President Trump even famously claimed that he could declassify a document just by thinking about it.

Trump’s comments raised an important question: What exactly is the process for presidents to classify and declassify information? The answer matters because classified documents can contain some of the United States’ most closely guarded secrets, including the location and identities of intelligence sources abroad. Declassification is equally important for promoting government accountability, and helping the public understand government policies and actions.

To help us understand how the presidential classification and declassification process works in practice, we have Brian Greer and Wendy Leben. For nearly a decade, Brian was an attorney in the CIA’s Office of General Counsel. And Wendy was a senior intelligence analyst in the Department of Defense for 13 years, including seven deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

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