Disclaimer: This article is (hopefully) 100% non-political.
As a loyal American (can you say that and not be political?), I am disturbed by the lack of control our national agencies have over classified documents. It seems there are tens of thousands of people (see below) who can get their hands on such documents, but no system is in place to catalog and return them?
Obviously, this was a huge problem long before Biden or Trump. As I am, you also must be frustrated that an elected official from either party, from President to members of the House of Representatives, can cart documents out of secure areas in their briefcases or cardboard boxes and leave them strewn about where house cleaners or anyone with access to a closet can peruse them. It is also angering to realize that no one seems to know that these sensitive documents are missing (for years).
Isn’t there a library system with check-out and returns? Even our local library seems to know where nearly ALL their 20-year-old, $3.95 books are.
What we have learned in this episode of “Who Has the Document” is that, essentially, no one seems to know WHO has been given these sensitive documents, WHERE those people have taken them, or WHEN they will return them.
Is no one is recording who has been given a copy or how many copies have been made? This is incredibly troubling!!! Rand Paul recently commented that one problem is the sheer number of sensitive documents. He says there are too many.
One other issue, which also has continued for as long as I can remember is that security clearances seem to continue long after a person has left office, even if that person was merely a “Director” or “Czar” under a president. In my mind, I would think that an elected official and his/her entire staff, would lose security clearance the very day they ended their term (or when that person leaves that staff position). Back when Former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was caught taking classified documents (roughly 2014) from the National Archive inside his trousers questions were raised as to why this ex-advisor STILL had security clearance to view classified documents. He had not been working in a position which required it for a long time. However, no rules changed and ex-employees of presidents and congressional members still are allowed to keep their clearances to view sensitive documents.
On the other hand, when a middle-management employee leaves a company, someone else packs their belongings and delivers them to them in the lobby. So, why is there not a review by security personnel of all documents being packed when people leave office? The one leaving should not even get to keep a government stapler, let alone sensitive documents.
This points to the misnomer called “classified” documents. Let’s review:
- Anyone with security clearance can look at them (literally 2.9 million people at last count)
- Security clearance does not end when your job that required the clearance ends (it can extend beyond your employment for up to 2 years after leaving your security-eligible position). This is true even for low-level FBI agents.
- The person with clearance may be allowed to transport them in personal briefcases or even cardboard boxes to any secure or unsecured location they wish
- That person who legally took them is allowed to store them at their personal estates and/or “think tank” offices, on their boat, on their personal server, on their “Blackberry,” or even on their coffee table where anyone with a bit of know-how can access them.
- There seems to be little legal risk for misplacing or mishandling these documents
- The person who has them is under no obligation to report the location of those documents when they are no longer in a secure government office
- (I could go on…)
Should this not be changed? Perhaps a law should be passed which eliminates these issues. “Sorry, Mr President, you cannot take classified documents with you to that vacation chalet.” “Sorry, Madam Secretary, but you cannot copy that electronic version to your personal device.” We need a Secret Secret Service to courier all secret documents between locations and make sure they are returned within a set time-limit. All sensitive documents must be kept at a secure location (government office, for example…in a safe when not in the possession of the intended reader).
Anyone (even a president or vice president) who misplaces, mishandles, or forgets to return such a document should face fines, censure, and maybe other legal trouble.
Gotta say it: These aren’t White House Dinner Menus. I researched this, and those you can see online if you wish. No need to stuff one in your trousers or lock in an otherwise unused closet.
Copyright 2023 Donald Whelpley
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