My grandparents’ attic was a hoarders’ treasure trove. To gain access was to pull a rope down from the ceiling, where a rickety staircase would then slowly descend using a clever pulley system.
Upstairs among the dead flies, live spiders, mouse droppings, and Amazonian-level heat were stacks of unmarked boxes containing everything from paperback books with lurid bodice-ripping covers to yellowed newspaper clippings announcing the end of WWII to hollowed-out flashlights filled with equal parts silver dollars and silverfish.
These various oddments were off-limits to a kid like me — after all, I did not have the necessary security clearance — but, when Grandpa was sleeping off another one, and Grandma was at a coffee-cigarette klatch with neighbors, I snooped around anyway and discovered all kinds of high-level family secrets.
I remembered my late grandparents’ attic as I read through the latest Trump indictment and saw the startling pictures of the stacked boxes of classified documents in one of his many Mar-a-Lago bathrooms and elsewhere.
No surprise, given his entitled manner and his growing criminal rap sheet, that Trump would have absconded with files that did not belong to him, but my real question is, why are top secret intelligence papers being kept in flimsy cardboard boxes?
Were these boxes bought online at Amazon (a 20-pack of Bankers Boxes with the easy-to-use “lift-off lid” currently costs $114.37), or did the former president have his valet raid the free box bin at Costco?
The stacks of boxes in the photos included in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s indictment are in no discernable order. Lids on the banker boxes do not appear sealed or secured. Are the contents even labeled? Are there digital copies, and if so, why is it necessary to have these mountains of papers scattered across the country from Washington DC to New Jersey to South Florida? Is it the case that top secret files were really mixed in with non-secret memorabilia such as Trump claims, “many, many things, shirts and shoes, everything.”?
“I hadn’t had a chance to go through all the boxes,” said the twice-impeached president. “It’s a long tedious job, it takes a long time — which I was prepared to do, but I have a very busy life. I’ve had a very busy life.” Eighteen holes of golf followed by hiring and firing attorneys each day can be time consuming.
As of October 2017, the most current figures available, some 2.8 million Americans have some form of security clearance. Around 1.6 million have access to “Confidential or Secret” information, and nearly 1.2 million have access to “Top Secret” information.
Wait, there’s more. CNN reports that others “have security clearance but don’t currently have access to information. This includes civilian employees, contractors and members of the military.” A figure for that category is unknown.
Would this include Air National Guard service members like Jack Teixeira? The 21-year-old, now in custody, allegedly leaked high-level documents that revealed US spying, among other details, concerning the war in Ukraine. He faces serious prison time, and unlike the ex-president, I doubt he will be able to retain his passport and travel internationally while awaiting his trial.
Back to my original question: If these files hold secrets that we do not want our adversaries to know — secrets that endanger American lives — why are they kept in such a scattershot manner? Is this how secret documents are also stored at the White House: a rather dumpy edifice that, like my grandparents’ place in the Midwest, has had a 200-year history of its own rodent issues? (Note, when I say rodents, I mean the four-footed vermin variety, like rats and raccoons, not past human occupants.)
Protocol dictates that top secret documents should be housed in a SCIF room. The acronym stands for “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.” According to Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, “Only personnel with a [Top Secret] clearance can enter the SCIF. When not in use, the room is locked. Presidents often have a temporary SCIF on their property or vacation homes.”
Or, in their water closets? Hmm, did the former president designate his Mar-a-Lago loo as a SCIF? Was this accomplished by merely thinking it into being as, he claimed, was also the case when he declassified top secret documents?
I can see this missive dropping soon on Trump’s always truthful Truth Social: While sitting in this incredibly beautiful bathroom, with its secure locks and THANKFULLY its robust ventilation system that the psycho socialist libs wish they had to blow out their vicious lies, I thereby decreed that as soon as I flushed this beautiful and powerful toilet, and all it contains, THE ROOM WILL NOW OFFICIALLY BE A SCIF OFFICE! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!!
Warning to the inscrutable Special Counsel Jack Smith: this ploy just might be the perfect stay-out-of-jail defense for Trump and his rotating phalanx of lawyers. It’s not a state secret that stranger things continue to happen since that fateful day in 2016, when Pandora’s unsecured box tipped over, spilling its toxic contents all over America’s attic.
Stephen J. Lyons is the author of five books of essays and journalism. His new book Searching for Home, Adventures with Misanthropes, will be published this month. Order here: https://lnkd.in/d8ruBMmbDisclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.