Despite their differences, both scandals highlight the urgent – and long overdue – need for a complete overhaul of the United States system for securing secret presidential documents.
Although both show that sensitive government records may have been kept insecurely in private locations, the Biden and Trump classified document releases are quite different from one another. However, security experts tell our channel that they do share one thing in common: both incidents highlight the urgent need for improvement in the U.S. system for protecting sensitive presidential documents, particularly during the crucial time when one administration turns over control of the White House to another.
The enormous amount of records produced or used by the president, vice president, and their sizable National Security Council staff is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the American government. U.S. intelligence rules state that some would pose a “severe threat” to American national security if left unattended or kept in locations where they might end up in the hands of the country’s enemies. Some might reveal details on American clandestine operations and undercover spies, for example. Others might reveal the nuclear weapons capabilities of American friends and enemies.
Congressmen who oppose Biden in 2024: The Republicans who have been most vocal in their criticism of Biden come out and have the authority to subpoena witnesses. However, issues with document security have been known for years, if not decades. Additionally, reforms have been pushed for by current and former government officials, security analysts, and private watchdog groups, but with little effect.
According to Lauren Harper, the director of Public Policy and Open Government Affairs at the nonpartisan National Security Archive in Washington, D.C., “we’re truly seeing an existential crisis at the highest levels of government, at the presidential level.” “And it’s something that we’ve been saying has to be handled and restrained,”
For the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, general counsel Scott Amey continues, “I’d bet you that if they go back to all of the living presidents and root through their homes and their libraries, as well as their warehouses and garages, they’re going to unearth some classified documents there.”
Security flaws occur frequently: Problems with the former president of the United States originate from his demand that he declassify entire boxes of records, his refusal to have them returned, and the fact that top-secret data were mixed in with personal items. President Joe
Biden’s errors, according to his staff, seem to have been more unintentional and include a smaller collection of classified documents from his tenure as vice president that were discovered at a previous workplace and his home in Wilmington, Delaware. The Biden documents’ nature and the reason they were in his hands for so long without anyone discovering them have been left unanswered by the White House. However, according to CNN, which cited an unnamed person with knowledge of the situation, among the things found in a private office last fall were 10 secret documents, including US intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered subjects like Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed two special counsels, one for each of Trump and Biden, to look into any legal violations and search for any other records that may be in their hands. One former senior security official who worked to safeguard sensitive presidential documents under Presidents Trump and Barack Obama claims that such security breakdowns occur on a rather regular basis.
A few times a year, a current or former White House official would notify law enforcement about a classified, secret, or confidential document that had turned up somewhere, and someone with the appropriate security clearance would be sent from the White House, National Archives, or FBI to retrieve it, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations. He claimed that since it occurs frequently enough, there are formal written protocols in place for how to handle it at the National Archives and Records Administration, as it is officially named.
Such lapses, according to Mark Zaid, a lawyer who focuses on handling secret information, date back to World War II or earlier and are much more frequent than is generally acknowledged. These men frequently transported classified records home before the Presidential Records Act, which was passed during the Carter administration. “I have one in my library from the Truman administration that was top secret until 1994, but it was in Truman’s chief of staff’s custody for fifty years, at home somewhere, because that’s what they all did,” said the author. Every presidential library and administration, Republican and Democrat, have experienced situations when classified information, regrettably, was carried home or to an office, according to Zaid. “That’s not to excuse or condone it, because it might have major repercussions for the person who mismanaged sensitive information.” However, it frequently occurs. Every presidential library and administration, Republican and Democrat, have experienced situations when classified information, regrettably, was carried home or to an office, according to Zaid. “That’s not to excuse or condone it, because it might have major repercussions for the person who mismanaged sensitive information.” However, it frequently occurs.
Transitions of presidency: a frantic last-minute scramble: Each administration must use presidential documents up until the very end of their term before having only a few weeks, or less, to pack them up for transfer to the Archives, according to Archives policies and documents. This is one of the biggest structural issues with the way presidential documents are
safeguarded. Potentially hundreds of White House employees will have to pack up their belongings and segregate their documents, both paper and digital, from those that must be sent to the Archives for preservation and, in some cases, ultimate declassification.
Former staffers told CNN and the New York Times that this was particularly true of Biden as he left the Obama administration because of the frenzy of last-minute meetings and international flights he made to try and solidify the pair’s legacy.
Larry Pfeiffer, a senior CIA official who also oversaw the Obama administration’s White House Situation Room, said, “My thinking right now is it probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea for someone to organize a group of specialists to sit down and assess the process.”
“Are we doing everything we possibly can to reduce the likelihood that this material ends up where it is ending up?” asked Pfeiffer. “I’m going to think that there are probably some things that could be done better.”