• Leadership and Security Standards

    January 24, 2023

    Posted in: Democracy

    Leadership, real leadership, requires setting an example. As far as security is concerned, the leader of the Federal government, Joe Biden, earns an F– for security. His setting of a double standard for the handling and secure storage of classified materials drives home once again (Hillary, Trump, you out there?) that one set of rules applies to those on top and another to those underneath.

    I am a retired State Department official who held a Top Secret clearance without incident for some 23 years. Not once did I violate my promise in return for access to the classified material I was privileged to see did I break the rules. I never left anything out on my desk, never took home a piece of paper, never brought a classified cable on the train to read on my commute. Even when I wrote my whistleblowing book We Mean Well about Iraq reconstruction I was meticulous in not including anything remotely classified, even insisting the publisher hire an ex-CIA lawyer to vett the manuscript. Most everyone around me over the years of service took the promise as seriously. It was our job to, in the extreme, keep boxes of classified documents out of our garage.

    I still remember Day One of my service at State, when some very serious people told us we had two jobs, to protect classified and our regular tasks (economic reporting, passports issuance, run the motor pool, whatever.) Notice the order: a mess-up on the job is usually correctable locally. A failure to protect classified can have global implications.

    To understand why this was far from dramatic, understand how intelligence operations work. Intelligence gathering is waiting. It means collecting pieces and waiting, sometimes for years, for the picture to expose itself. No detail is too small if handled properly, and things of no use to the host country service can be horse traded to another intel service elsewhere. So we were taught to push aside the oft-cited excuse that something was over-classified, or would not matter. It mattered.

    The other thing is intel services know people are creatures of habit. If they leave classified documents in accessible places once, they are likely to do it again. They and the places their Corvette travels are worthy of additional attention.

    Every instance of a security breach, however minor, is followed up on inside agencies who work with the data. At an Embassy, for example, at the end of the day one is responsible for clearing away classified materials and securing them properly. Later in the evening but before the cleaning crews start in, a Marine or someone designated by the Security Officer walks through the entire building desk by desk, looking for stray documents. If one is found, it is seized and secured, replaced with a note saying what happened and requiring the owner to report first thing to the security office.

    What happens next depends on a variety of factors. Minor first offenses get off with a warning. More serious missteps — multiple documents, higher level stuff, repeated offenses — are met with a range of possible punishments including a three day suspension. People who still don’t get the message are subject to loss of their security clearance and in the extreme, job termination. It is not so much that people are fired all the time (they’re not) but sitting there getting your butt chewed out by the Security Officer you understand what happens next is on a continuum of punishment. It focuses the mind wonderfully.

    The element emphasized in these discussions with the Security Officer is responsibility, one’s personal responsibility to secure all classified. Your desk, your responsibility. Biden’s excuse — that he did not know there was classified material at his old office, in his home library, or in his garage — reeks of a fourth grader trying to claim his dog ate his homework. The “I didn’t know” line is the antithesis of leadership and the opposite of the call to personal responsibility every other Federal employee is supposed to follow.

    For those who insist there is a space between a low-level Fed like me worried about securing a piece of paper and the President, literally drowning in the stuff, one must remember that Biden is supposed to be a leader. The correct answer would be “As vice president I had a lot of help packing out of the White House, and it looks like someone inadvertently put classified materials in a box which ended up in my new unsecured office. Nonetheless, I am responsible for what happened and take full responsibility.”

    We’ll pause for a moment while you catch your breath from laughing. Of course neither Biden nor any other important person in government would ever say such a thing, actually taking non-wishy washy personal responsibility for some wrongdoing. Biden instead has listened to his lawyers and not the people and won’t even ask what documents were found. That’s not what modern leaders do, and that above all is the double-standard at play here today. This is a not a document scandal, it is a leadership one.

    Related Articles:

    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • John Poole said...


      What is Kamala Harris saying about Biden’s classified material handling “sloppiness”? Has she flippantly dismissed it with faux hearty laughter yet?
      Will Hillary be the one chosen to break it to Kamala (woman to woman)- that she was not chosen to be Biden’s successor? Hillary will enjoy being the messenger of grim tidings.

      01/25/23 9:31 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Trump, then Biden, now Pence. At first it pointed to Kamala as the usual suspect to destroy her competition. But she didn’t have access to Mar-a-lago. Pompous did. The guy laughed at his Saudi buddy beheading a journalist. Pompous may be doing some beheading himself.

      01/25/23 12:32 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      A suggestion for types who are determined to misbehave: make sure you are perpetually investigated for numerous continuing offenses so a response to any inquiry can be: “I’m not at liberty to comment on any matter due to ongoing investigations. Forget lawyering up, crime up big time!

      01/27/23 1:32 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “Leadership, real leadership, requires setting an example.”

      So, I guess, you ain’t voting for the Pompous Ass, who has set an example of one. Always considered Pompous Ass to be an activist.

      01/27/23 5:38 PM | Comment Link

    Leave A Comment

    Mail (will not be published) (required)