In 2009, Hillary Clinton installed an E-mail server in her home, which she used to conduct government business. After a series of hacks and leaks, the FBI and the State Department investigated her unsecure server. They identified hundreds of E-mails containing classified information, and it’s fair to say they would have found more if Hillary hadn’t hastily deleted 33,000 E-mails. Every agency that investigated her agreed she was “careless” and “negligent” in handling classified information but refused to bring charges against her.
When Hillary ran for president in 2016, her opponent, Donald Trump, relentlessly reminded voters about the controversy and encouraged his fans to chant, “Lock her up. Lock her up.” The E-mail scandal played a significant role in Trump defeating Hillary in the 2016 election to become the 45th president of the United States.
After leaving office in 2020, Trump took hundreds of classified documents home with him from the White House. In 2021, The National Archives and Records Administration noticed they didn’t have certain items from Trump’s tenure that they’d expected. So they requested he turn over any classified he may have kept. Trump’s lawyers sent back 15 boxes and promised he didn’t have anything else. However, the FBI found evidence that Trump was still in possession of more. So they sent agents to search his home, where they found 26 additional boxes of confidential, secret, and top secret documents.
Now history is repeating itself. Government agencies are debating whether Trump’s actions were deliberate, if they warrant prosecution, and if criminal charges are even possible due to their unprecedented nature. The right wing media is saying this is a witch hunt and making every excuse imaginable to defend Trump while the left wing media is acting like all we can do is wait and see what the lawyers decide. They’ve all missed the point… again.
My perspective comes from the fact that I served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000 to 2007, and I had a top secret security clearance. Anyone who has worked in a top secret environment can tell you that the vast majority of classified information is boring. Even the culture in a top secret environment is dull by design. You’re not supposed to have fun, or be creative or expressive. When you walk into a secure area, everything is as serious as a heart attack.
My first supervisor explained it to me like this, “When something is marked ‘top secret,’ it doesn’t matter how mundane the actual information is. You treat it as if it contains the exact time and location where the president is going to be, and any unauthorized person who sees it is an assassin who will use that info to murder the president. It doesn’t matter if the information fell into the wrong hands because you were negligent or malevolent. Your actions killed the president. That’s all that matters. You see, ‘top secret’ doesn’t just mean ‘really important.’ It means, ‘no mistakes, no excuses, no mercy.'”
I recently saw a Tweet that summed it up another way. It said, “Top secret info is like child porn. If it’s in your house, you’re going to jail.”
For enlisted personnel, there’s no gray area when it comes to handling classified information. You either follow the rules to perfection, or you get the book thrown at you. On the off-chance you miraculously don’t go to jail for mishandling sensitive material, at the very least you’ll lose your job and your security clearance and never be able to work anywhere near classified information again.
It’s worth noting that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump didn’t just mishandle information that could compromise a single mission or a military base in the middle of nowhere. They failed to safeguard information related to the highest levels of national security… your security. If they were anyone else, they would have been arrested the moment the FBI found their unsecured documents. The only debate would have been about how long they’d spend in prison.
The only question news pundits should be asking in response to the Hillary/Trump saga is why politicians with the highest responsibility to national security are held to the lowest standard of accountability.