Top Secret Documents, Delays, Biden, Pence, a Hidden M16 — Part 2

Greg Markley


In a perfect world, OpSec (operational security) would work in every time and place. It is a common term in the military, and more and more among businesses. It facilitates risk management through procedural processes. This encourages managers to view operations from the vantage point of an adversary to protect sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands. Sounds good, but as noted above, this is not a perfect world.

This is part two of two on politicians finding themselves in security lapses. Even when they must have had some understanding of keeping top secret documents at secure government buildings, they left some in their homes or at their private offices. Today we focus on President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence.

When I was teaching U.S. History II at Fort Benning in 2012, a tank commander, staff sergeant caught me before class. He could not make class that night because one of his soldiers lost his night vision goggles (expensive and meant to be secured). I said, “Thanks for telling me,” and he returned to the field. Two days later, he reported that they found the googles. That’s good, but this Armor NCO always seemed to have an emergency — only on exam days.

“The discovery of these documents was made by President Biden’s attorneys,” said Richard Sauber, the president’s special counsel. “The documents were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the National Archives.”

The initial discovery yielded fewer than a dozen classified documents, according to CNN, in early January.

Robert Hur, special counselor appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, was a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Maryland. Jack Smith, who served in the Obama administration, is investigating Trump’s classified documents cases. That sounds good, each president having a member of the opposition on his tail. If Hur and Smith do their jobs properly and fairly, praise them.

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself,” wrote George Orwell (1903-1950).

He authored “Animal Farm” and the dystopian novel “1984.” Both remain part of the canon for many high schools and colleges. Orwell argued against too much security in government, but classified documents being misplaced would also upset him.

As for Biden, having been chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995 and having served as ranking minority member for 18 years, he should be as wise about returning “hot” documents as anyone in D.C. Also, he served as chairman or ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for years. That body regularly deals with classified documents.

Biden had a fraught entry into the presidency because of Trump’s crude obstructions. Yet Biden must already know how to delegate and oversee projects like removal of top-secret items. If he or his staff had secured all their classified documents, Trump alone would be making headlines on this issue.

In 1993, I was coming back from Croatia as an “augmentee” to the U.S. Army public affairs section there. “Augmentees” are grafted onto a company or detachment due to a need for one or more persons in a special job vacancy. I linked up with the public affairs officer in Heidelberg, but the flight to Berlin where I lived was cancelled.

“I will take you to a hotel and pick you up in the morning,” said the Army ranger, a major.

I said, “OK, but what about this M16 rifle (unloaded)?”

“Just lock it here in this supply cabinet — no one will know,” he said.

I feared the small lock might be opened early the next day, by someone seeking a notepad instead of a rifle.

Not returning an M16 to a safe armory is unwise and illegal. Fortunately, we picked up the sub-machine gun without fanfare at about 7 a.m. The lesson is that document security and weapon security both must be upheld. (I handed the M16 to an armorer in Berlin, and never again made a security lapse — that I know of.)

Pence has also been found lacking. At his home in Carmel, Indiana, and with his consent, the FBI dove in.

“Department of Justice completed a thorough and unrestricted search of five hours and removed one document with classified markings and six additional pages without such markings,” said Pence advisor Devin O’Malley.

Pence is respected mostly by religious conservatives and Republican businesspeople. His run for president will be impacted, although he is a hero for counting all 2020 electoral votes honestly. He now has a security breach. We will see what develops with the trio of Trump, Biden and Pence. We learned, though, that OpSec is a trainwreck right now for the United States.

Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM and a master’s in history from Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to The Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education and books.


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