The recent FBI raid on former US President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago is heartbreaking. Despite other criminal investigations and impeachment proceedings against previous presidents, this is the first time a presidential residence has been searched for possible violations of federal law in the United States. And for good reason: The former president, as it now appears, violated the law regarding the handling of classified information.
Aside from the romanticization of Hollywood movies and the creative portrayals of the CIA and FBI by filmmakers, the secrecy of classified information within the US government is a serious matter. Many US national security agencies have different classifications of classified information: confidential (S), The main secret (TS) andTOP SECRET- SECRET CLASSIFIED INFORMATION (TS-SCI). The latter category is a special classification for material containing details of specific individuals that serve as a source of highly classified information. If this information gets into the wrong hands, the people involved can be killed.
About the author
Jennifer Smits Gilkus Served as a top official in the Bush administration and campaigned for the Biden-Harris team.
To illustrate the rigors of handling classified information in the United States, here’s an example: Several years ago I was a policy analyst at the State Department in Washington, DC. My main job is to maintain liaison between the State Department and relevant congressional committees on policy and budget matters. issues, particularly in relation to Africa and the Middle East. I was on the team preparing for congressional committee testimony, briefing senior officials.
Getting hired in the Ministry of External Affairs and getting proper security clearance is not easy. It should never be. For example, innumerable interviews were conducted with me, friends and relatives to prove that I have a solid quality of handling confidential information. I had to provide detailed financial information, as well as prove that I had never been threatened or worked with a foreign entity that could undermine the United States. This process, even at my level, takes months of work.
Security in offices
Upon being hired, I had to receive training on how to handle such classified information, even within the confines of a secure facility like the department I worked in. We all had safe deposit boxes in our offices where confidential information was to be kept. We had to memorize long codes. Every confidential document in our office had to be kept under lock and key at night. Every night, US soldiers conducted a “security review”. If there were secret items on a table somewhere, they got a warning. No second warning; Instead, you were fired and fired.
Briefs containing classified information on Capitol Hill were long and tedious. These briefings were held in secure, windowless rooms spread across Capitol Hill called SCIFs (Sensitive Compartment Information Facility). These are the same rooms where many Congress members hid during the January 6, 2021 riots. Before these demonstrations, we had to plug in all our electronics. We were not allowed to take notes during these lectures which sometimes lasted for 4 to 5 hours. The latter in particular presented an additional challenge as it was up to us to produce a confidential report of all conversations, comments and information.
I was not a high-ranking government servant then. I was one of the employees. However, the careful handling of confidential information was also of utmost importance to me. Because the president is responsible for national security matters, that interest should be even greater for the president.
The fact that President Trump not only removed classified documents from a secure compound, but decided to keep them in his office, hotel, is as shocking as the FBI raid. The fact that the FBI was able to break into Trump’s vault means that any seasoned criminal at Mar-a-Lago could have done it.
Trump’s arrogant approach to handling highly classified information shows that he has no respect for US national security. In fact, his behavior endangers the entire nation.
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