• Classified Right Outta Mar-a-Lago

    August 17, 2022

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

    What is a classified document? Trump seems to have lots of them, and the FBI sure wants them back.

    In the wake of my first book critical of the State Department’s Iraq Reconstruction program, Diplomatic Security began a deep dive into my life in an attempt to find something over which to prosecute me. A colleague inadvertently passed on a bit of personnel gossip via his official email to my Yahoo! account, and the chase was on.

    Diplomatic Security claimed I was in possession of “classified” material at home and referred my case to the Justice Department. The email in question was simply labeled “For Official Use Only,” (FOUO) a standard tag then automatically applied to all email sent by State in the unclassified system (a wholly separate email system existed for true classified — Confidential, Secret, Top Secret — messages.) FOUO was a non-standard “classification” made up by State and was being used to pin me against the wall and force me to resign under threat of prosecution. Luckily someone familiar with classification law at the Department of Justice prevailed, and I was not charged. The so-called secret in the email, that a mutual friend thought someone’s boss was a jerk, stays safe with me to this day.

    The classification system for national security documents, while designed to identify documents to protect from people without the proper clearances, including foreign intelligence officers, has been often misused over the decades. It is very easy to slap a classified label on a document — persons using the State Department’s classified email system must classify what they write as either Confidential, Secret or Top Secret. If the document does not fit those categories it does not belong on the “class system” to begin with, though this is often misused as well. State workers who use the class system almost exclusively for their work might pass on a lunch invitation via the same system to avoid jumping from computer to computer.

    Many documents correctly classified on creation, such as a military convoy movement time, lose their secretness within a few hours after everyone sees the convoy rumbling down the road. The classified bit was knowing in advance the convoy would depart a certain place at a certain time and after that passed, meh. Lastly, documents are often over classified for ego purposes, the sender feeling more important if his pet project is labeled Secret as opposed to FOUO or simply left unclassified. That all said, some documents deserve their classification and more, particularly those which reveal sources and methods, say the name of our agent deep inside Putin’s inner circle. Stuff like that is rarely ever even put into writing; if the president wants to know he is usually orally briefed.

    Classification can also be misused in other ways, say to “hide” a document from future Freedom of Information Act searches and delay its release. Important people like to think they do important things and rightly or wrongly most of what the president or the Secretary of State touches ends up classified at some level. Over classification thus plagues the government, slowing down the legitimate transfer of information.

    Except for the president, once classified it is very hard to unclassify or downgrade a document not subject to automatic declassification. Anyone can create a classified document by slapping the word Secret on it, but very few people can later take that document and change it to unclassified. The assumption is the original classifier was correct. The biggest exception of them all is the president himself, who holds the authority to change or declassify documents. This is not done willy-nilly; there is a process to follow which leaves a decision trail and usually includes some sort of consultation with the organization (State, CIA, DOD) which originated the document. The president cannot wave his hand over a storage unit of banker’s boxes and declassify the lot. Also, the president can unilaterally authorize officials from a foreign government to receive classified national security information. It is a very broad mandate, stemming from the fact that the entire classification system is based on Executive Orders more than law. Of course there are also the questions of  “legal” and “sensible” that apply to all presidential actions but the latter is up to the voters, not the FBI, to decide.

    Classified documents are supposed to be stored in classified containers (safes) or spaces (up to bank-like vaults.) All these rules about classified documents are supposedly taught to you as part of being issued a security clearance, though in practice people like the president or SecState have staffers who take care of producing, storing, and disposing of classified. If a breach occurs, the first question is not nyah nyah nyah you got caught! but what level of document was exposed and how was it exposed. Did you inadvertently leave it out on your desk instead of putting it into a safe inside the guarded embassy during lunch, or did you intentionally publish it to your Instagram? Was it an out-of-date means-little document or a current list of human assets in Ukraine? How much damage was done and what was the intent? Because there’s classified, and then there’s classified, bubby. Those maximum penalties bandied about by the media would typically require a significant exposure with intent to do harm.

    People inside government and the military commit security violations all the time, almost all minor and inadvertent. Punishments can be as mild as being told not to do it again, up to loss of pay and forced time off to actual loss of job and even prison. But you gotta work at it to go much further than your own boss and the security team.

    We don’t know exactly what documents were found at Mar-a-Lago, and we don’t know what classification they individually held or how they were stored. We do know Trump as president had the authority to declassify any of them, something which will figure into any defense he has to make. We also know the type of document and what it contains matter a lot in any penalty which may follow the FBI raid. We also know what Trump did with the documents is critical. If they never left a dark, locked basement storage area at Mar-a-Lago and were likely not reviewed by anyone since leaving the White House, punishment will be unlikely unless politics interferes.

    Since millions of government employees have at one point handled and mishandled classified, there is plenty of precedent out there on action and punishment. For example, one of the most well-known cases is Sandy Berger, former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, who stole classified documents from a secure reading room at the National Archives. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material (via the Espionage Act, the same charge the media says Trump may face) and was sentenced to probation, community service, and a fine. General David Petraeus received only probation for intentionally sending highly classified military documents via commercial email to his lover/biographer.

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintained an unsecured private email server which processed classified material on a daily basis. Her server held at least 110 known messages containing classified information, including e-mail chains classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level, the highest level of civilian classification, that included the names of CIA and NSA employees. The FBI found classified intelligence improperly stored and transmitted on Clinton’s server “was compromised by unauthorized individuals, to include foreign governments or intelligence services, via cyber intrusion or other means.” Yet Clinton was not prosecuted nor penalized. Any prosecution of Trump would need to address that precedent.

    All this needs to be kept in mind when evaluating the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago. The FBI, its reputation already in tatters post-Russiagate, might also have kept it in mind before deciding to stage another likely losing full-on assault against Trump.


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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      What are they hiding behind that classified curtain?

      In the WMW case DS goons used the threat of a weak classification violation to keep you from pulling back the curtain on the Iraq reconstruction fraud. Of course, Hillary Clinton, the Wicked Witch of Arkansas, was also the wizard behind the classified curtain.

      In Donnie Trump’s instant case us munchkins have a need to know what classified secrets DT was so desperate to keep behind his Mar-a-lago curtains.

      Classification is a threat to all of US when it is used to hide the truth.

      08/17/22 5:25 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Nothing is stopping DT from telling us munchkins the reason he kept those classified documents. Was it his get-out-of-jail card?
      We can be certain it wasn’t in the munchkins interest. Caring about anyone other than himself is against his religion.

      08/18/22 7:35 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Any successful prosecution of Trump would indeed most likely force a revisit of Hillary Clinton’s FBI condoned sloppy unsecured communication practices. The USA seems stuck in a self oscillation loop that usually results in the airframe impacting terrain in a fatal manner.

      08/18/22 12:05 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Bauer: as a certified munchkin of no particular distinction I’m still curious whether America’s Democracy ends with -using aviation terminology again- CFIT or UCFIT. Maybe there isn’t much difference at this point since it is hard to discern what is still under control and what isn’t? The tower is unmanned, a go around seems unlikely and the glide scope is turned off. Trump as the PIC would definitely ensure a CFIT. The rich are wearing parachutes and know how to safely exit the plane before impact. We munchkins I guess have no option but to brace for impact and hope for the best.

      08/18/22 2:13 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      If the FBI was consistent it would have raided Mar-a-lago a month before the 2024 election, declaring the recovered classified nuclear documents in his unsafe house were a threat to our national security, and that Trump was charged under the Espionage Act.

      08/18/22 2:13 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “The FBI, its reputation already in tatters post-Russiagate, might also have kept it in mind before deciding to stage another likely losing full-on assault against Trump.”

      1. You really need to mark “satire” when you write stuff like this.

      2. Heaven forbid the FBI damages Trump’s sterling reputation. Yes, Hillary should have faced charges for her reckless handling of classified info. If you or I had done anything close to these two idiots while working for State, we would be exchanging notes in the prison yard during our exercise period. In my case the goons at DS tried to charge me with a LOU violation, apparently unaware their powers ended with Confidential, Secret and TS violations. Later it was determined my violation was communicating with Scott Ritter on the State email about US criminal activity invading Iraq.

      3. Trump is an idiot. Who knows what idiotic things he has done with TOP SECRET docs. Now he doesn’t have his DOJ to refuse to investigate his stupidity. He deserves his day in court. If it is a case of walking off with the White House silverware and no criminal intent, then a nasty fine should suffice. If he stupid enough to make money off these documents, then let him rot in the cell his buddy Jeff ended.

      08/18/22 8:39 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      What did Orange Clown in the orange prison jumpsuit hide behind the classified curtain?

      OC created his own prisoners dilemma by constantly demanding Hillarious be locked up for her security violation. Possession is ninetenths they say, so OC may get 9-10 years.

      The OC cries it is a witchhunt. The question is: which country was he trying to get paid for which TOP SECRET documents? The FBI is on the hunt.

      08/20/22 11:57 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Just how many TOP SECRET documents did Putin demand for that peepee tape?

      08/20/22 12:47 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Bauer: I sense Trump’s almost paranormal talent at hiring the most clever lawyers will keep him out of jail or prison. There will be no operational correction for this empire. In other words there won’t be a correctional go around. CFIT may be America’s destiny. An alternative concurrent blueprint for what next could serve our species’s continuance is fomenting. I’d like to think that might be the case.

      08/20/22 2:38 PM | Comment Link

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