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National Security? Seriously?
Why The Espionage Act Is An Act Of Absurdity
Now that Donald Trump has been formally indicted with 31 counts of felony possession of boring memoranda under the politically problematic Espionage Act, the corporate media, true to form, has been dutifully pontificating on the severity of these “crimes” and the “seriousness” with which the federal government takes violations of the Espionage Act.
Since 2018, there have been about a dozen criminal prosecutions of people retaining classified or national defense information, according to the Justice Department.
In many of the cases, the defendants received lengthy prison sentences, reflecting how seriously the government takes protecting the country’s secrets.
As we are being told the government takes these cases very seriously, let’s look at some of the details of these various offenses. In particular, let us see what we can determine about how seriously and zealously our federal government safeguards our nation’s “secrets”.
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Because this is about The Donald, we should naturally begin with the particulars of the allegations made against him.
Specifically, in the indictment released to the public on June 9, Trump was charged with some 31 counts of violating 18 US §793(e) (“Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information”):
(e) Whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted, or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it;
That’s the crime, so let’s turn to the indictment and review what’s being alleged factually.
First we are told that Donald Trump accumulated a trove of classified materials “in boxes” over the course of his Presidency.
Trump was President from January 20, 2017 through January 20, 2021. According to this second paragraph of the indictment, he haphazardly tossed classified documents into cardboard boxes that also held newspapers, press clippings, and other items.
If we take this allegation at face value, then it is fair to say that Trump was careless with classified documents. Bad Trump! Bad, bad, bad, naughty Trump!
But… (of course there was going to be a “but”!)
How did those documents find their way into those cardboard boxes? Did someone bring Trump classified documents, drop them off on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, salute smartly, and leave without ever following up to make sure those documents were returned to their proper location?
Missing from the indictment is any statement to the effect of “Lieutenant A approached TRUMP and said ‘Sir, I really need to return that wargame simulation where we nuke the hell out of Tehran to the Pentagon.’” Are we supposed to conclude, then, that this same US government that takes safeguarding classified materials so seriously ignored the casual and haphazard storage of classified documents in the White House for four years?
Thank heavens the FBI was right on the spot. Why, it only took them until March 30, 2022, to start investigating the disappearance from
The Swamp Washington, DC those cardboard boxes filled with classified documents on January 20, 2021.
Yes, they only needed one year, two months, and ten days to realize that a few hundred classified documents were not where they were supposed to be, so they could start the investigation. This despite Trump showing off at least some of the documents a full six months earlier (“Hey, Melania, wanna see this simulation of Tehran being turned into radioactive glass? It’s da bomb!”).
I’m so glad the government takes retrieving these “secrets” seriously. Who knows who else might have shared an inappropriate laugh over these delicate secrets involving US national security had the FBI not rushed into Mar-A-Lago with packing tape guns at the ready to retrieve these boxes of classified materials that had been haphazardly stored at the White House for four years before surreptitiously being loaded onto Trump Force One and shipped to Florida. One year, two months, ten days…that’s practically an immediate response. One of those classified documents must have had a James Bond-like homing beacon that was activated after it left Washington airspace for the FBI to have responded so rapidly.
Don’t you sleep better knowing we have such competent and diligent gauleiters ready to stomp on the Bill of Rights at the slightest provocation?
Seriously, though, Trump should have known better. After all, it’s not as if the government’s swift and merciless response hasn’t been the norm in Espionage Act cases over the years.
Just the case of Lt. Colonel Robert Birchum, who just this year pleaded guilty to having improperly stored hundreds of boring memoranda over the years.
Birchum, who was an Air Force lieutenant colonel with a decorated 29-year military career, pleaded guilty in February to one count of violating the willful retention of national defense information provision after investigators discovered during the first month of the Trump presidency in 2017 that Birchum had stored more than 300 classified documents or files in his home, a storage pod on his property and his officer’s quarters overseas. Birchum was not charged with spying or giving the documents to anyone, and he cooperated with investigators and conveyed remorse – but a Trump-appointed judge sentenced him this month to 3 years in prison.
Now while it may have taken the wheels of justice a few years to turn and grind up Mr. Birchum, it took Air Force investigators no time at all to find the external hard drive at his home in Florida that he’d used to improperly store boring memoranda while overseas.
After discovering the classified information stored at the defendant's home, on January 30, 2017, AFOSI lawfully seized a personal Iomega hard drive that the defendant had possessed outside of a SCIF in his temporary quarters overseas. A review of that hard drive revealed that the defendant had separately used that hard drive to willfully and unlawfully retain 117 additional files containing classified national defense information
That’s right, after being tipped the week prior that Birchum had a thumb drive loaded with boring memoranda, that’s when they discovered the external hard drive that he’d been carting around with him from duty station to duty station to improperly store boring memoranda.
And it was just a few days after that when they noticed a storage pod on his property, searched that, and found even more improperly stored boring memoranda.
Finally, on February 3, 2017, law enforcement conducted a search of a storage pod located on the premises of the defendant's home in Tampa, Florida. From the storage pod, law-enforcement seized 28 paper documents that contained information marked as Secret
Thank heaven the Air Force jumped on that tipoff about Birchum improperly storing boring memoranda, realizing that he’d been doing so for quite some time unnoticed, swooping in to correct this injustice and obscure the reality that no one had noticed him absconding with boring memoranda for who knows how long.
It may take a while for the government to notice the loss of their boring memoranda, but once they notice, they respond with all the speed and agility of a glacier moving down a mountain. You really don’t want to mess with the government by improperly storing boring memoranda.
Nor should we overlook the example made of Harold Martin, who was finally convicted of improperly storing boring memoranda for 15 years before the government realized what he was doing.
Martin, who was a contractor for the National Security Agency, pleaded guilty in 2019 to one count of violating the willful retention of national defense information provision after he was indicted in 2017 for possessing, in his home and car, a massive quantity of classified material he had taken from work over the course of more than 15 years; he had been charged with 20 counts for 20 particular documents identified in the indictment. Martin was not charged with spying or giving the documents to anyone, and his lawyer portrayed him as a “compulsive hoarder.” He was sentenced in 2019 to 9 years in prison.
Martin was not even a military guy, just an NSA contractor, who apparently collected boring memoranda (as a hobby? The plea deal doesn’t say he shared the documents with anyone, he just kept them).
Classified information relating to the national defense is closely held and maintained under specific security conditions. Because of his work responsibilities. and security clearance, Martin was able. to access classified national defense information in secure locations and computer systems. Beginning in approximately the late 1990s, Martin stole from such secure locations classified paper and digital documents containing information relating to the nationai defense and retained those documents in his residence (including surrounding property), on his person, and in his vehicle;
Beginning in the late 1990s and continuing through August 31,2016, Martin possessed in his residence and vehicle, both located in Glen Burnie, Maryland, a vast quantity of documents and other information bearing standard classification markings, in both hard copy and digital form (stored on multiple electronic storage media), that he stole from his workplaces
We are fortunate the NSA only took 20 years to find out about Martin’s hobby and took steps to get their boring memoranda back.
The documents and digital files Martin stole from his workplaces and retained without authorization at his residence spanned two decades, related to many subject matter areas, and included information from many U.S. govenunent agencies. The large volume of hard-copy and digital materials included information from the National Security Agency (NSA), U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Apparently Martin had quite the collection of boring memoranda!
Trump was allegedly casual and careless with “national defense information” for four years in the White House and another one year, two months, and ten days at Mar-A-Lago before anyone did anything.
Lt. Colonel Birchum toted around an external hard drive to his overseas assignments for an unknown number of years (probably 3-4, depending on the age of the hard drive). Based on the reading of the affadavit from Birchum’s plea agreement, the hard drive and the storage pod with documents were discovered only after the first search of his home, which was occasioned by someone alerting the Air Force that Birchum possessed classified materials at his home—which itself suggests that, short of that notification, the Air Force had no knowledge that Birchum had improperly secreted classified documents and materials around his home.
Harold Martin walked off with classified documents for 20 years without anyone noticing.
This is taking national security seriously? Seriously?
If these documents were that sensitive and that important to the nation’s defense, how is it that they could be compromised so easily and for so long without someone doing something? If these documents are that important, shouldn’t someone have noticed they weren’t where they were supposed to be?
If no one cares enough about these documents to keep tabs on them at all times, including whether or not they are copied, and people can walk off with them, keeping them for years before anyone discovers the impropriety, just how much can they really pertain to the “national defense”?
We are told these are serious and heinous crimes because of the confidential markings these documents possess. We are told that such improper and illegal handling of these documents is a grave threat to national security.
If that is the case, where are the scalps of the NSA, CIA, and DOD staffers, both military and civilian, who were so casual and cavalier about these materials that it was possible for someone to abscond with them in the first place?
If these materials were that sensitive, and comprise that drastic an ongoing compromise of national security, shouldn’t there be a records or security officer somewhere being hauled up on charges for dereliction of duty or something similar for letting those documents slip away from controlled environment?
If it is so important to make an example of Donald Trump, shouldn’t “Lieutenant A” or whomever else was responsible for getting those classified documents properly returned also be hauled up on charges? Isn’t that person also guilty of jeopardizing national security?
We don’t see those charges anywhere in the corporate media. We should—if these are the security breaches we are told they are someone is responsible for letting these people abscond with national defense information. Anyone who improperly gave these materials to these individuals is arguably themself chargeable under 18 US §793—for having “transmitted” information.
We don’t see that charge anywhere.
If the people who enabled these serial mishandlings of “national secrets” are not being publicly brought up on charges, how much credibility should we assign to these documents and their classified markings? How can we assign any credibility to those markings?
What makes these latest charges a political persecution of Donald Trump is the complete lack of seriousness with which these documents were handled by the very people besides Donald Trump charged with handling them seriously. Calling them “boring memoranda” is obviously tongue in cheek here, but based on the careless contempt with which the government has safeguarded these materials over the years, can we really presume they are anything more than that—and if they are not more than that, where is there a crime perpetrated by Donald Trump under the Espionage Act?
18 US §793(e) makes it a crime to improperly store or handle these materials when “the possessor has reason to believe [they] could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.” Based on the government’s own conduct in failing to properly secure these materials, on what basis can we say that Trump, or Birchum, or Martin—or any of the other handful of people charged under the Espionage Act in recent years—had any reason to believe this to be true about the documents they possessed?
All Facts Matter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Alternatively please consider making a donation via Ko-Fi. Thank you always for your support!