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Trump, Pence, and Biden are not alone. Sensitive documents are accessed by millions, and misuse is widespread

According to national security professionals, the issue is much more pervasive than is generally believed, and it might seriously compromise national security.

Some CIA directors distributed them to their mistresses and biographers, while others kept copies on their personal computers. A presidential aide stole some of them from the White House while still wearing only her panties, while a much more senior adviser stole some from the National Archives by hiding them in his socks.

And while one intelligence contractor downloaded thousands of them, handed them to journalists, and then fled to Russia, another released them to a news organization and was imprisoned.

The public is missing the wider picture and a much more serious potential national security issue amid all the commotion over Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and Mike Pence having sensitive information in their possession, security analysts and former Justice Department officials told the associated press.

They claimed that other people besides former presidents and vice presidents had been found guilty of handling classified and even top-secret documents improperly. Additionally, there may be millions of people working in sensitive positions who need a U.S. national security clearance right now, not just those who have left the government.

According to Bradley Moss, a national security attorney in Washington, D.C. who specializes in handling cases involving mishandling of documents, “the universe of individuals who not only have access to classified information in one form or another but who have at different times mishandled it spreads across the entire gamut of the federal workforce and cleared officials in the judiciary and Congress.”

countless probable instances

Moss calculated that nearly four million people—both inside and outside of government—possess security clearances. Nearly 3 million persons had access to secret or sensitive information in 2017, according to the Director of National Intelligence, with another 1.2 million having access to top-secret material.

And according to Moss, many other people get automatic clearances as a perk of their employment, including some judges and elected officials who must deal with sensitive information like American military plans and programs for snooping abroad.

One of them is Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., the new top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a longtime member of the oversight board for the intelligence community.

About his simple access to a SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, on Capitol Hill where he could keep and examine documents, Himes remarked, “I’m really lucky in that I live in, in some respects, the easiest system.

According to Himes, who works with secret materials across the federal government, “that’s not true for practically everyone else.”

“Inevitably, some of it walks out the door,” Himes remarked, typically unintentionally. “That’s a difficulty. Additionally, we will never completely solve the issue.

There are many people with Trump, Biden, and Pence

Because former President Donald Trump admittedly removed the documents on a large scale and with deliberate intent when he left office in January 2021, his position is unusual among mishandling document cases. That led to a dispute between the National Archives, which is in charge of protecting the records, and the former president, who insisted erroneously that he was permitted to retain them. That remains true even if Trump, as he claims, personally declassified them using his presidential power.

All White House employees are expressly required by the Presidential Records Act of 1978 to turn over all records, even the smallest scribble on a notepad, as they are federal property. In the end, the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago house and private club in Palm Beach, Florida, based on a court-ordered search warrant, and hauled off multiple boxes of documents last August.

All White House employees are expressly required by the Presidential Records Act of 1978 to turn over all records, even the smallest scribble on a notepad, as they are federal property. In the end, the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago house and private club in Palm Beach, Florida, based on a court-ordered search warrant, and hauled off multiple boxes of documents last August.

Other top officials have handled sensitive documents improperly, frequently on purpose.

After discovering that John Deutch had inappropriately stored extremely sensitive information while director on an unprotected computer in his house that was open to hackers and spies, the CIA announced in 1999 that it had suspended Deutch’s security clearance.

As a result of a sex scandal in which he shared sensitive secrets with his mistress—who at the time was working on a biography of him—retired army general David Petraeus was forced to resign from his position as director of the CIA in 2012. The majority of them dated back to his tenure in the military when he served as the commander of Central Command and oversaw the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Later, Petraeus entered a guilty plea to one count of improper removal and retention of classified information.

Oliver North’s former secretary, Fawn Hall, admitted in 1987 that she had smuggled information about the Iran-Contra controversy out of the White House compound to her ex-boss on the day he was sacked. This occurred during the Reagan administration. Fawn Hall was Oliver North’s secretary.

President Bill Clinton’s national security advisor Samuel “Sandy” Berger was fined and given two years of probation in 2005 for illegally removing secret information from the National Archives.

And because they disapproved of American policies, intelligence contractors Edward Snowden and Reality Winner stole sensitive data from their respective jobs and provided them to journalists. The type of information that was distributed in both cases, according to the authorities, amounted to a serious breach of national security.

Cases and offenders, large and small

According to the Presidential Records Act of 1978, every member of the White House staff, from the President to the lowest clerk, must turn over all work documents to the National Archives when leaving their positions for them to be preserved and later declassified so that the general public of the United States can access them.

Similar information-security regulations apply to the storage and access of classified documents for virtually all other U.S. officials and contractors. When they leave the job, whether it is for the day or the rest of their lives, they must also leave all sensitive information behind.

There have been numerous other incidents involving senior American officials and individuals with top-secret certifications that were never made public. According to Moss, Himes, and other national security professionals contacted by the associated press, this is frequently the case since they voluntarily restored the documents to their rightful places. They claimed that for it to be criminal, authorities would have to demonstrate that the individuals not only purposefully took the documents but also knew doing so was against the law.

According to Moss, several of his clients had two, three, or even four infractions before their agency eventually acted to remove their clearance. And the degree of the error is determined by how brazen it was and by what you did, if anything, after realizing it.

According to Moss, Himes, and other security professionals consulted by the associated press, for every one of those bold-face names, there are possibly hundreds or even thousands of instances of people – from low-level staffers to top civilian and military officials – who improperly took classified documents from locations where they were supposed to be safeguarded.

At federal buildings like the White House, the vice president’s mansion at the Naval Observatory, and Fort Meade, the location of the National Security Agency, Rep. Himes claimed accidental document mishandling can happen.

If you work at Fort Meade, it’s not unusual for someone to have a desk that is covered in both unclassified and classified information, according to Himes. “You can take documents from one room to another,” he added.

Former federal prosecutor Brandon Van Grack claimed that, in contrast to the Trump, Biden, and Pence cases, the majority of mishandling issues “don’t happen when you leave office, they happen in real-time” and in considerably less serious situations.

Van Grack, who oversaw mishandling investigations and prosecutions while working for the National Security Division at the Justice Department’s headquarters, claimed that the problem was much more widespread than most people realized. “There’s probably an instance of improper handling going on right now.”

According to Van Grack, “it doesn’t usually happen at your home, in these volumes, and with the same sensitivity” as the recently reported cases. “However, mistreatment occurs frequently and constantly. And part of the reason for this is the abundance of classified documents. This is partially a result of a large number of people with clearances. And individuals simply make mistakes, which contributes to some of this.

Others ought to be watching

The National Archives and Records Administration last Thursday sent a letter to all recent presidents and vice presidents requesting that they review their files for any sensitive papers after Pence claimed to have discovered them at his Indiana residence.

Former Trump CIA director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who may run for president in 2024, admitted to a right-wing media outlet on Monday that he checked his files in advance.

“I searched. In an interview with “The Dispatch,” Pompeo remarked, “I don’t think I have any confidential documents.”

The Trump, Biden, and Pence cases, according to some secret document specialists, will probably lead others to review their files.

According to Jason R. Baron, a former litigation director at the National Archives, “In light of the recent revelations, it would certainly be prudent for other former high-level officials involved in national security affairs to take reasonable steps to review ‘personal’ documents that they may have taken with them when leaving office, before being formally requested to do so.”

Ironically, according to Baron, “officials at the very top levels of government may be the most susceptible to errors, as high-level employees in Cabinet agencies dealing in crucial problems of national security are considerably more likely to have daily access to classified documents.”

According to Van Grack, Moss, and other security specialists, depending on the type of information in the papers, some of the lower-level “spillage” incidents may be just as hazardous or perhaps more so. According to U.S. intelligence policy, material that has been designated as classified is classified for a reason because, if it is not protected, especially if it falls into the wrong hands, it poses a serious threat to U.S. national security.

Himes said, “It’s just a matter of math.” “The likelihood that something may leak increases with the number of people who have access and the amount of information there is.”



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