There are other questions, of course. Did he take the material because he thought it was “cool”, like some sort of trophy? Or did he see a benefit in having them, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman wondered during an appearance on CNN’s “New Day” on Monday.
Imagination runs wild in the absence of facts.
The most tantalizing detail is that 11 sets of documents have been classified.
This shines a light on the classification system by which the government hides information from its people in the name of everyone’s national security.
Over a million people have Top Secret clearance
It’s actually a very large universe of people with access to Top Secret data.
In it, over 2.8 million people are described as having a security clearance as of October 2017 – over 1.6 million have access to confidential or secret information and almost 1.2 million are described as having access to top secret information.
There are other people who have a security clearance but currently do not have access to the information. This includes civilian employees, contractors and the military.
Agencies control their own classified data. They’re supposed to declassify it
That doesn’t mean over a million people have access to the Top Secret documents that lay around Mar-a-Lago. Each agency that deals with classification has its own system and is expected to be involved in the declassification of its own documents.
Trump’s defenders have argued that he had an order in place to declassify all documents he brought from the Oval Office to the residence during his time in the White House, although professionals have said that claim does not could not be true.
“The idea that the president can declassify documents simply by moving them from one physical location to another is nonsense on so many levels,” said Shawn Turner, CNN analyst and former communications director for the U.S. National Intelligence, during a Monday appearance on “Inside Politics.”
There is a formal process
Turner said the declassification process must include approval from the agency that classified the information in the first place to protect the intelligence-gathering process, its sources and its methods.
Presidents have periodically used executive orders to update the official system by which classified information is declassified.
More recently, then-President Barack Obama implemented Executive Order 13526 in 2009. This is still official policy since neither Trump nor President Joe Biden updated it.
The government may soon change the process
Biden’s review will re-examine the three general levels of classification.
Top-secret– This is the highest classification level. Information is classified Top Secret if it “could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally serious harm to national security,” according to a 2009 executive order that outlines the classification system.
A subset of Top Secret documents known as SCI, or Sensitive Compartmented Information, is reserved for certain information from intelligence sources. Access to an SCI document can be further restricted to a select group of people with specific security clearances.
Some of the materials recovered from Trump’s Florida home have been marked as Top Secret SCI.
Secret — Information is classified as secret if the information is deemed to cause “serious harm” to national security if revealed.
Confidential — Confidential is the least sensitive classification level, applied to information that can reasonably be expected to cause “damage” to national security if disclosed.
What kinds of things are Top Secret?
Former CIA officer David Priess, who is now editor of the Lawfare website, said on ‘New Day’ that no matter the specific classification, this is information the government has an interest in not keeping. make public.
This could be information collected on the North Korean nuclear program or on Russian military operations, for example.
Leaks can be disastrous or deadly
The government often gets this kind of information by asking people to risk their lives or by using technology he doesn’t want his opponents to know about.
Speaking about it on Monday morning, Priess became emotional.
“Disclosure of this information puts people’s lives at risk,” he said. “It’s no joke. We know people who have died serving their country in this way.”
What took so long?
The larger question than what is classified, Priess explained, is why, if the government knew the documents were at Mar-a-Lago, it took investigators so long to get them.
For a president to declassify anything, he argued, there must always be a paper trail so everyone knows something is declassified.
“If they are not marked as declassified and other documents containing the same information are not also declassified, has it really happened? If there is no trace, how do you know?”
We may not know more for a very long time.
The problem now may be that the imagination will run wild over the content of the documents.
It could be a very long time before American voters have a clue what it was really about.
“Technically, we won’t see any further action on this matter on the legal docket unless and until the DOJ brings criminal charges against anyone,” said CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig, also on “New Day”.
There is already speculation that rather than prosecuting accusations, the government was simply trying to secure the data.
Classified information can stay that way for years and years – between 10 and 25, depending on the declassification guidelines signed by Obama.
The norm is that if something no longer needs to be classified, it should be declassified. And if it has to be graded beyond that 25-year period, it can be.
Look at the Top Secret documents of yesteryear
The case of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago documents seems special, however, and there are already bipartisan appeals to the senses. Mark Warner and Marco Rubio — top elected officials on the Senate Intelligence Committee — to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Attorney General Merrick Garland are asking for more information about what was caught by the FBI.
Examples of Lawsuits
Prosecutions for mishandling classified data may involve prominent personalities.