Somewhere in Plains, Georgia, an aide or 98-year-old Jimmy Carter himself is rifling through old boxes, searching for any document from the late 1970s marked “classified.” I’m not sure what threats there are to the Republic from high-level information about Rhodesia or the Warsaw Pact slowly decomposing in a filing cabinet, but the National Archives is on the case, directing former presidents and vice presidents to scour their properties for any official secrets. (Carter has found classified documents “on at least one occasion” and returned them quietly to the Archives, according to the Associated Press.)
America has a problem with classified information. But this problem isn’t the one you’ve been hearing about for the past few weeks, with the revelations of President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence turning up documents improperly stored in their homes and offices. It’s also different from the problem of Donald Trump hoarding classified information at Mar-a-Lago—though the circumstances of Trump asserting the right to take the documents and obstructing the efforts of the Archives to take them back make what he did qualitatively different, and far worse.
No, the problem with classified information is that there’s so much of it, so much useless, meritless, groundless classified information. Tens of millions of pieces of paper are so labeled, millions of people can see them, and yet the vast majority of such material would not remotely endanger the nation if it entered the wrong hands. In fact, much of it is just plain embarrassing to the government, or worse, a cover-up of illegal acts. [Continue reading…]