The Corner

Security Stuff

From a reader:

Mr. Goldberg:

Back in the very early 80s, I worked for a short while in the vault in the

Northrop engineering library in El Segundo, CA. Sometimes engineers screwed

up and threw Secret or Top Secret files, papers, reports into “burn barrels”

which were only supposed to be used for Confidential (low level gov’t

clearance) or Northrop Private (personal payroll & health insurance stuff).

Despite having been briefed & re-briefed on this stuff, and presumably

despite their stratospheric I.Q.s, they somehow didn’t get the concept that

every Top Secret document had a control number, and could only be destroyed

by authorized people who did all the paperwork to document the destruction.

When confronted regarding their mistake, they invariably went into

free-fall panic, especially if they were foreign-born. The usual procedure

after a screw-up was that the person responsible was team interviewed

(always intimidating) and of course the incident would be noted in their

personnel file.

Other than the burn-barrel mistake, another situation which came up

frequently was the reassignment of personnel from project to project, with

Secret and Top Secret documents checked out by former team members turning

up missing when the project ended sometimes years later.

I don’t buy Sandy Berger’s story at all. I was required to go through

Secret and Top Secret documents page by page to make sure no pages were

missing. Each paragraph was marked as to the material contained in that

paragraph (Confidential, Secret, Top Secret), and it was also necessary to

check the classification of each and every paragraph to make sure that the

classification of the document as a whole represented the highest

classification of any paragraph within the document.

Nobody who worked with classified documents would think that he could take

documents out of a secured room without SIGNING for them in the presence of

the document custodian for that room. Nobody with familiarity with Top

Secret documents would ever assume that there were lots of extra copies of

those documents, and that if the original were lost, it could easily be

replaced. It is not permitted to make any photocopy of any Top Secret

document, since that would obviously destroy the utility of assigning a

unique number to each copy.

The fact that the man was stuffing papers down his pants and into his socks

should tell you all you need to know about mens rea. He knew that if he

asked permission to take ANY piece of paper from that room that the answer

would be no. And what’s worse from my point of view, he didn’t give a damn

if the document custodian took the blame when documents came up missing.

Screw the little people. This guy deserves to be in prison far more than

Chuck Colson ever did.

Don’t use my name. Love your stuff.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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