Classified documents seem to be everywhere. Is there a solution?


“These are crazy times,” comedian Jimmy Fallon quipped last night. “Right now, Walgreens has deodorant behind a locked case, while classified documents are laying around like J. Crew catalogs all over the house.” 

Indeed, the discovery of classified documents in the home of former Vice President Mike Pence, disclosed Tuesday, has launched countless jokes – and put a punctuation mark on the ongoing saga of such materials turning up in the private homes and offices of President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump. Both the president and former president are now under investigation by special counsels.

Why We Wrote This

Recent discoveries suggest that mishandled classified documents may not be that rare. One problem: a “tsunami” of government secrets, and a system that defaults to classifying everything.

But the news about Mr. Pence – who served under Mr. Trump and stated categorically in a November CNN interview that he “did not” take any classified documents from the White House – has made clear this is a more widespread problem. To many national security experts, it’s giving credence to the view that way too much information is marked “classified” and that the handling of such documents has long been fraught. 

Says Elizabeth Goitein, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program: The Pence news “confirms what has become evident, which is that there’s a systemic problem here.”

“These are crazy times,” comedian Jimmy Fallon quipped last night. “Right now, Walgreens has deodorant behind a locked case, while classified documents are laying around like J. Crew catalogs all over the house.” 

Indeed, the discovery of classified documents in the home of former Vice President Mike Pence, disclosed Tuesday, has launched countless jokes – and put a punctuation mark on the ongoing saga of such materials turning up in the private homes and offices of President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump. Both the president and former president are now under investigation by special counsels.

But the news about Mr. Pence – who served under Mr. Trump and stated in a November CNN interview that he “did not” take any classified documents from the White House – has made clear this is a more widespread problem. To many national security experts, it’s giving credence to the view that way too much information is marked “classified” and that the handling of such documents has long been fraught. 

Why We Wrote This

Recent discoveries suggest that mishandled classified documents may not be that rare. One problem: a “tsunami” of government secrets, and a system that defaults to classifying everything.

The Pence news “confirms what has become evident, which is that there’s a systemic problem here,” says Elizabeth Goitein, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program. 

Part of the problem, she says, is that “when there’s any uncertainty, officials default to classifying.” And when so much information is marked classified, “you are bound to run into situations where officials are either cutting corners or just making mistakes.” 



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