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Do classified document revelations highlight problems at the National Archives?

  • The American Prospect – “Presidential Document Scandals Should Take Down America’s Secrecy Industry We classify way too many documents. Unfortunately, that will probably not be the takeaway from recent events. America has a problem with classified information. But this problem isn’t the one you’ve been hearing about for the past few weeks, with the revelations of President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence turning up documents improperly stored in their homes and offices. It’s also different from the problem of Donald Trump hoarding classified information at Mar-a-Lago—though the circumstances of Trump asserting the right to take the documents and obstructing the efforts of the Archives to take them back make what he did qualitatively different, and far worse. No, the problem with classified information is that there’s so much of it, so much useless, meritless, groundless classified information. Tens of millions of pieces of paper are so labeled, millions of people can see them, and yet the vast majority of such material would not remotely endanger the nation if it entered the wrong hands. In fact, much of it is just plain embarrassing to the government, or worse, a cover-up of illegal acts…”
  • The Hill – “Former President Trump is being investigated for improperly handling classified documents. President Biden has also been found to have classified documents in his possession dating back to his time as vice president. Now former Vice President Mike Pence is in a similar situation with mishandling classified documents. It would not be surprising if other public figures make similar disclosures in the coming months. So, is the problem with the people or the data and information management process used by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)? There was a time that everything was recorded on paper. This is no longer the case. With the preponderance of information now stored electronically, the concept of classified documents is about classified information, not the physical documents that have been taken, stored, or as we now know, mishandled. Not all classified information is of equal concern. Any information that can harm the United States, its people and its interests would be considered classified across one of three levels: “Top Secret,” “Secret” or “Confidential.” The levels of classified documents held by the three men remains unclear. The NARA is responsible for storing and maintaining all presidential records, as outlined in the Presidential Records Act. They provide guidelines to ensure an efficient and complete transfer of presidential documents once a president’s term ends. This means that physical presidential documents that contain classified information should no longer exist outside the NARA. Based on the recent disclosures, the NARA has either been delinquent, misled or some combination of the two. In an electronic information world, all paper classified documents should be transferred into electronic form, with paper documents destroyed almost immediately once they are no longer in use. With such a procedure in place, no one could ever mishandle such documents…”

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