I know for sure. Trump’s hoarding is serious.


I never knew when the call would come. There might have been news that would raise some expectations, but usually it was just a phone call to let me know that a member of law enforcement was bringing a package of classified documents to my office.

For seven years I had a “top secret” security clearance required by my position in government. Initially I didn’t even want clearance, but as world events unfolded it became necessary. In attempting to understand and act upon the information provided by high-level security briefings, the person receiving the briefing must have the appropriate clearance so as not to endanger the security officer providing the briefing.

Usually, I’d get a call to my office telling me that a law enforcement officer would be bringing a package over for inspection. The officer would hand over the sealed package, exit my office, and stand in front of my closed office door. The document came in an envelope with a special seal that changed color as soon as I opened it. I took out the document, read it, sometimes several times, studied it, and then put it back in the envelope, putting a new seal on the flap. I would then hand the document back to the officer waiting.

Sometimes these documents were purely informative; sometimes they required action. Sometimes they seemed routine to you; other times they would inspire a sleepless night. I have always felt privileged to be among the few who have been given the opportunity to verify the details and have always felt an obligation to my country to treat with respect the process that brought this information into my hands.

This is why I am so shocked by the news of what the search has found from former President Donald Trump’s private property. Keeping sensitive records in one’s home is such a blatant violation of our country’s security requirements that serious investigation and consequences should be warranted when this is true.

The information I received at my office was generally classified as “law enforcement sensitive” or “top secret.” This layer of information typically included details about specific security threats and sometimes suggested actions, but rarely provided any insight into how the information was obtained. In my role, I never really paid attention to that part. I wanted to know about threats and I wanted to know what actions are recommended to deal with them.

Considering the Trump case, the presence of files and the apparently careless keeping of boxes of top-secret information is disturbing enough. But it’s the additional notation of SCI (or Sensitive Compartmental Information) that worries me more.

SCI is a more sensitive category of top secret information so restricted that it could not be viewed at my office but would have to be viewed at a purpose built facility. The reason for the increased level of security is that SCI information reveals much more about the circumstances under which the information was secured (whether human or technological, such as eavesdropping). This aspect of data processing is typically absent from material marked “Top Secret”, but allows analysts to have a better sense of how the information was obtained.

SCI information is closely guarded simply because it may be possible for our nation’s enemies to reverse engineer the information to identify sources or methods. The average citizen may not always appreciate it, but our nation has real enemies who are on 24/7 operations to compromise the United States.

I remember once attending a so-called “Presidential Briefing” where a senior official was briefed by representatives of the usual federal literacy agencies. The detailed briefing lasting several hours offered a practical presentation on the threat level. In the end, the veteran official was horrified. Despite being part of the government machinery, the official had no idea of ​​the magnitude of the threats facing our nation.

My thought has always been: Those who are working to make America safer are working so hard that the public doesn’t have to think about such things.

In cases where SCI information was disclosed, there were significant consequences. The release of such information may cause foreign governments to change their operations in response. In other cases, it could compromise sources and lead to the deportation of those operating covertly. While these spy vehicle-related actions can be bad enough to disable certain aspects of US intelligence, the results can sometimes be deadly. Failure to properly disclose SCI information jeopardizes our nation’s intelligence functions and may endanger the lives of those who covertly serve this community.

I was aware of this basic fact of intelligence gathering every time I dealt with top secret SCI information. As I said before, it is a privilege to handle such information in the context of your work; but with that privilege comes great responsibility—as a security professional and as an American citizen.

This is why the issues surrounding the Trump search have hit so hard. Here was a person entrusted with the secrets of our nation. Of all those to whom he was so entrusted, he should have known the gravity of that responsibility. That he apparently acted so recklessly and risked the lives of American patriots is unscrupulous. It is a violation – of oath, of responsibility and, at the most basic level, of citizenship.

Many details will surely emerge from this historic moment. In all of this, it is important to remember that in conducting this unprecedented search, the security classification of the documents is not even the real legal issue at stake. The actual search was about the question of what belongs to the American people and not to the private citizen Trump. Security classifications and improper storage of sensitive information were just the unexpected findings.

It is worth questioning and investigating why the former President was in possession of any of these documents. Speculations without facts do not make sense in this regard. Perhaps further research will shed more light. Until then, it is good to have these documents back in the custody of the US government, but I sincerely hope the damage has not already been done. The safety of our nation and those who work so hard to keep it safe depends on a deeper understanding of this worrying potential.

Delmar’s Bill Howard was the first chief of staff for the New York State Office of Homeland Security until 2007.


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