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On Locked Garages and Classified Documents

The latest example of either perfidy or incompetence on the part of President Biden has to do with how he and his staff have dealt with classified information. It would seem that Mr. Biden, or someone representing him, took and kept classified documents from his time as Vice President when he left that office. So far, to my knowledge, they’ve been found at a think tank associated with the President, as well as at one of his residences.

I’ll leave the bloviating about the legality of what Mr. Biden did, or had done in his name, to those more knowledgable of the law. I will, based on my experience, comment on the stupidity of what was done.

Classified information, no matter what form it takes, needs to be kept in an approved, inspected, and monitored environment. Information is classified for one simple reason – If people who oppose us have it, people we like will die.

If war plans are known to the enemy in any detail, our servicemen will die in battle, or even before they get to the battlefield.

If the details of how we secure things like sensitive research facilities or nuclear power plants become public knowledge, then they can be infiltrated or defeated, causing the loss of that facility, the knowledge and technology it contains, and the death of the people around it.

And let’s face it, there’s nothing more embarrassing than having to explain why a bunch of your people died because your opponent stole a bunch of knowledge and technology and used that to catch up, if not pass you, in an arms race.

Worst of all, in my opinion, is when what we know about our opponents is made available to those opponents. There are two orders to the damage this can cause. First, the people who provided that information to us die, usually in a rather horrible manner. It’s quite possible that everyone they ever knew joins them. Second, the methods or technology we use to gather data on our opponents will become useless. In either case, the flow of data about our opponents will dry up.

That’s why when I hear reports from Ukraine about how much information is being reaped by listening in on and monitoring Russian cell phones in the conquered territories, my teeth start to itch. Best way to make something stop working is to let your enemy know about it.

And don’t get me started on what happens to people who are exposed as having helped us, even unwittingly. I still have nightmares about things like that.

The ‘why’ of classifying information and the need to protect it is a deep and intricate rabbit hole, but I think you get the point.

The items found at the think tank are concerning, but it could be worse. I’m going to give the people who run that organization the benefit of the doubt and say that they might have had some level of security around the former VP’s and current P’s papers. It may have even met the standard for storing classified material, but just wasn’t approved.

However, we don’t know that for a fact, because nobody went to the trouble of contacting the right people and having them show up with their clipboard and take a look. Honestly, it’s not that big a deal to get that to happen, especially if the person requesting it is the Vice President. Somebody takes a look at your facility and how you do business with whatever it is you have that’s classified, makes sure you’re following some pretty straightforward guidelines, and checks off. Then another somebody looks at your justification for having it, and they check off. Then, every so often, you repeat the process and stay legal.

The higher the sensitivity of the information, the more stringent the requirements are, but none of them are too onerous. Honestly, if you can properly secure a factory that manufactures pharmaceutical opiates, you can secure a facility that stores classified information.

At a very high level, the criteria are something like this:

  • Physical security – Approved locks, fences, guards, and buildings. For most things, this can be done in a facility that’s not very different than your average office building.
  • Information security – All computers in a secure facility have approved controls on access and monitoring in place. No electronic media or devices in or out unless approved and done in a way that follows the law. All data transmission in or out of the facility is done in a way and following routes that are approved for the highest classification the facility contains. All copies of classified information are secured in approved safes or other storage when not in use, and it doesn’t leave the facility except to go to another secure facility. Hard copies, equipment, and electronic data that are no longer needed are destroyed using approved methods.
  • Personnel security – Anyone, including the guards, who will have access to the space have been cleared to have such access by the proper authorities. This may be as simple as filling out some paperwork and waiting a few weeks to be granted access. It may mean filling out a mountain of paperwork and then waiting while government agents have a chat with everyone you ever met. All personnel are required to sign in or out, either physically or electronically through some sort of security badge, when entering and leaving the facility. All personnel and their belongings are searched upon entering and leaving in a manner reminiscent of TSA at the airport. Things like cell phones, cameras, and any electronic media are taken from them during this inspection. For some levels of classification, it takes at least two people to access it, and nobody is ever left alone with access to the information.

Again, rabbit hole, but this covers the high notes.

And please don’t think that meeting these standards requires the creation of a special bunker out on the prairie surrounded by mutant Marines and malinois. You can have a secure area inside of an non-secure facility. It just has to be done right and be blessed by the proper people.

And like I said, the higher the classification, the more stringent the requirements. The CONFIDENTIAL manual on the capabilities of the latest folding shovel issued to SOCOM could likely be kept in a small safe in someone’s office. The SUPER TOP SECRET SQUIRREL CODENAME ORANGUTAN document that details the plan to curb stomp the French the next time they get a little froggy would likely be kept in a safe, inside a vault, under the Pentagon, guarded by the mutant Marines I mentioned earlier.

So, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the organization President Biden left classified material with after he left the vice-presidency in 2017 was storing the material in a manner that kept it safe.

But we don’t know that for sure, because nobody checked.

However, even if you assume that the residence of a former vice-president is secure, the garage where he keeps his mid-life crisis Corvette is not a secure facility.

That is, unless said Corvette was kept in a windowless, patrolled, locked, guarded, monitored, and inspected facility that was approved by the nice men from the NSA who have had their sense of humor surgically removed.

Even if the garage was locked, who had the key? I will guarantee that whoever went in every few days to check on the car did, and so did the guy who mopped the floor. And unless somebody was checking credentials at the roll up door next to the tool box, we don’t know who actually accessed that space and what they did while they were there.

Remember, when classified information is leaked, people die. That’s why security officers are such bastards. Doing that job right is worth the hate.

And since we’re pointing out the relatively smooth surface of the President’s cerebrim, let’s point out the utter stupidly of crowing about documents President Trump had in his possession after leaving office while having improperly secured classified documents in your own possession WHILE THE FBI WAS RAIDING THE FORMER PRESIDENT’S HOME.

‘Rules for thee, but not for me’ wasn’t cute on the playground when you were in the 4th grade. They have no place in the highest levels of responsibility and authority.

I look forward to watching the rhetorical, legal, and political cat fights that will blossom like slime molds on pond water over this. I just wish I’d bought popcorn futures last year. I’d be able to retire comfortably after this nonsense alone.

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  1. Old NFO

     /  January 14, 2023

    Oh yeah… And if any of US had done that ‘inadvertently’, we’d STILL be under the damned jail for the rest of our lives…


    • I have known two people who made honest mistakes with one, count them, one piece of paper that was stamped with a classification. Both lost their clearances, lost rank, and ended up out of the Army early. For one, it was a bad way to end their one and only enlistment. For the other, it was the loss of a much-earned retirement just a few years short of the goal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Old NFO

         /  January 14, 2023

        Yep, saw that happen too… Sucked to be them… And made the rest of us paranoid for the rest of our careers!


  2. Hammer

     /  January 14, 2023

    Next question, if part of Biden’s team found the documents, why did it ever hit the light of day? Are they setting him up to be removed?


    • Possibly, or they’re covering themselves for the inevitable investigation. Hard to charge the guy who reported it.


  3. mrgarabaldi

     /  January 14, 2023

    Hey DB;

    I recall the rules for dealing with classified documents and other things, but somehow the rules are different for some and others the UCMJ and the DOJ shows no mercy. The 2 tier justice is getting tiring.


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