There is a lot to unpack from the recent disclosure that President Bident had several classified documents stored in a few dubiously secured locations. Still, I will keep my analysis succinct until more information is available. I had previously written about the Mar-a-Lago raid regarding the alleged improper handling of classified materials by former President Trump, so I will try to avoid being redundant. However, the two cases have some significant differences, despite what most media sources would have you believe.
First, vice presidents do not have declassification authority like the President, which is not a viable excuse for Biden possessing these documents for several years. Whatever he had, his staff should have returned immediately during the transition process in 2016 and should not have been in his personal effects or official documents. That alone is an apparent mishandling of classified materials necessitating criminal charges and revoking his security clearance under any other circumstance. Similarly, sources have revealed that several of the documents heralded from Biden’s time as a senator, which is significantly concerning. Senators do not have unrestricted access to classified documents as the senior members of the Executive Branch. They are supposed to only view these materials in a SCIF (Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility), leaving them when finished. Private lawyers and federal investigators finding these documents in unsecured locations would warrant a criminal investigation, especially if it resulted in unauthorized disclosures (uncleared people viewing the materials).
Second, locked closets or garages are not acceptable methods of securing classified materials under any circumstances and are fundamental knowledge for anyone who has undergone that training. TS/SCI (Top Secret Sensitive Compartmentalized Information) materials possessors need to secure them in a SCIF under constant guard, and usually with double safeguards like a safe within a vault. Again, a locked closet in a public university or the garage or desk of a private residence does not constitute this level of protection. Recent media coverage has also raised questions about who may have had access to these documents, most notably, the President’s troubled son and his questionable business associates. Again, this level of gross negligence or willful disregard for classified document handling by Biden before his presidency raises significant concerns and would warrant immediate criminal indictments if it were anyone else.
Third, the quantity of classified documents improperly stored is irrelevant. A single page mishandled is punishable by fines, prison, and revocation of a security clearance. Many media outlets have attempted to downplay the number of documents found, particularly in comparison to Trump, but that is a disingenuous and intellectually dishonest argument. Similarly, “documents” is an ambiguously and intentionally vague term used when characterizing these materials. A “document” could be a cocktail napkin with classified notes or hundreds of pages of analysis with photographs and appendixes included. The U.S. government charged and convicted a sailor for taking six pictures with his cell phone inside the submarine where he served, which is considered a classified area. Joe Biden was a private citizen at the time of the initial infraction and subject to all applicable laws. Because the criminal act was ongoing during his presidency, it constituted an impeachable offense (high crimes and misdemeanors).
The following topics raise more questions and are more open to debate and analysis. Biden’s private attorneys found the initial documents at a think tank headquarters in a university – Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. The attorneys found the documents in a manila envelope marked “personal” and allegedly included intelligence on the U.K., Iran, and Ukraine. Who had access to this “locked closet” is still under investigation. Still, the university in question had a significant uptick in foreign investments (read China) after they formed the think tank with the former vice president.
As mentioned above, the President’s son was using one of the residences where investigators found classified documents as his home of record. Since his dishonorable discharge from the Navy, he has not held a security clearance. Additionally, this individual had and maintained some disreputable foreign business acquaintances who do not have the U.S.’s best interests or security in mind. Curiously, the U.S. government has not made the visitor logs for the two residences available for review, or they do not exist. Without letting apophenia get too carried away, it screams malfeasance.
That begs to answer these questions: why were the President’s attorneys going through these documents a week before a mid-term election likely to bring about significant Congressional investigations? Similarly, why did it take over two months for this disclosure to become public knowledge? Finally, why, if Trump’s alleged mishandling of documents he claims he declassified is such a national security threat, is Biden’s mishandling of material that likely had personal financial gain from foreign actors not?
I will caveat that governments, especially the U.S., grossly overclassify information, and most are unnecessary. Additionally, the GSA (General Services Administration) is responsible for packing and shipping the documents of former Executive Branch members. Biden might not have known the documents were in his possession. The Capitol Hill “Boy Scout” Mike Pence discovered after the Biden Fles scandal broke that he, too, had classified materials in an unsecured location in his Indiana residence. However, there are procedures for accessing classified materials to maintain accountability in case of unauthorized disclosures. The GSA should not have packed them accidentally, especially in manila envelopes marked “personal.” To quote a catchphrase from the great Adam Carolla, anyone downplaying the seriousness of this infraction is either stupid or lying.
In closing, the appointment of a special counsel by Attorney General Merritt Garland shows a glimmer of promise, but it is unclear how intensive or thorough his investigation will be. It is also significant to note that after Biden’s private attorneys (not the White House Counsel, I should add) discovered the initial batch of documents, there was no early morning raid on any of Biden’s residences. Similarly, the University of Delaware Library, where tens of thousands of documents from Biden’s lengthy Senate term are stored, has seemingly been immune to this investigation. They have also signaled that they will not cooperate with any congressional or other agency’s investigations or provide access to anything they hold until two years after Biden leaves office. It would appear that hypocrisy is not just another name for a waterborne mammal, and the “conspiracy theorists” were right about a duplicitous justice system in the U.S. today.
Ben Varlese is a former U.S. Army Mountain Infantry Platoon Sergeant and served in domestic and overseas roles from 2001-2018, including, from 2003-2005, as a sniper section leader. Besides his military service, Ben worked on the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq’s protective security detail in various roles, and since 2018, he has also provided security consulting services for public and private sectors, including tactical training, physical and information security, executive protection, protective intelligence, risk management, insider threat mitigation, and anti-terrorism. He earned a B.A. and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies from American Military University, a graduate certificate in Cyber Security from Colorado State University, and is currently in his second year of AMU’s Doctorate of Global Security program.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.