National security concerns should be a crucial characteristic of who public servants are, not an afterthought or additional duty. Persons holding the nation’s highest offices should be models of behavior for protecting US citizens. Not so with what President Biden’s mishandling of secret papers reveal. His sprinkling of classified documents among several unsecured locations is a sad testimony to Biden’s callous indifference to protecting America’s secrets. Ignorance is not a defense for people in positions of great responsibility.
“But as I said earlier this week, people know I take classified documents and classified material seriously,” President Biden told reporters at a recent news conference. Actually, Mr. President, people don’t know that, as the evidence is piling shows that the exact opposite is true. Finding papers with classification markings in three different unsecured places, basically open to the random passerby, is an egregious breach of national security discipline. In letters to the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, Ronald Moultrie, and the Director of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, William Lietzau, the new Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mike Rogers stated:
“I write to inquire whether you have been contacted to cooperate with US Attorney Lausch’s review and/or are conducting an independent investigation based on your own authorities…[It is] critical to assess whether possible national security damage, particularly to DOD equities, resulted from any improper storage, handling, or disclosure of classified information stored in a closet of a non-governmental entity like the Biden Center.”
The content of Rogers’ letter was obtained exclusively by Fox News, but before a third batch of classified documents were discovered in Biden’s garage in Delaware, next to his Corvette.
Mishandling Classified Information is Illegal
Readers should understand that civil servants elected, appointed, or part of the Federal civilian workforce who have classified security clearances are briefed on and read instructions for the proper care of classified materials. They sign statements that they understand what they’ve read and there are penalties for breaching the terms and conditions of the signed document. “18 US Code § 1924 – Unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material” states unambiguously that being an officer of the United States, which the vice president was, who possesses and knowingly removes classified materials without authority and retains the documents, “at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than five years.” The US government takes these matters seriously.
For example, the standard for mishandling classified documents has been applied stringently to US citizens who were not vice presidents. Asia Janay Lavarello, a US Defense Department employee, was sentenced to three months in prison and fined $5,500 in February 2022 for possessing her handwritten notes on subjects classified as confidential and secret in an “unsecured location.” According to a Justice Department press statement, “Lavarello removed classified documents from the US Embassy Manila. She took the classified documents to her hotel room where she hosted a dinner party later that evening. Among the guests were two foreign nationals.” Her notes contained information “classified at the SECRET level,” according to Department of Justice records.
Stringent Document Security
Other than then-Vice President Biden, government agencies are fastidious about document security. “The American people entrust government employees with the responsibility to ensure classified information is properly handled and secure. Ms. Lavarello violated this trust when she removed classified documents from the US Embassy Manila,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Merrill said, according to the United States Attorney’s Office, District of Hawaii press release. I’ll bet Ms. Lavarello wished she had put the notebook in a garage.
National security is and should be an uncompromising matter. Mr. Biden is not protected from the consequences of his actions. A special counsel has been appointed to investigate the president’s casual handling of America’s secrets but applying the law should not be a matter of the vagaries of high station. At the time of the classified data non-secure storage incidents, Biden held the second highest position in the country. If found to be culpable of mishandling classified materials, will he be held accountable?
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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