scholars and rogues

Document security protocols – Gonzales no dumber than the rest of the Bush Administration

I think that the members of our government should take the security of our nations secrets very seriously. Espionage and technology transfers lead to things like China developing ICBM and satellite killer missile technology. Unfortunately, though, the White House and the Office of the Vice President exempted themselves early on in the Bush Administration from following any security protocols designed to prevent espionage. Yep, you heard that right – Bush’s and Cheney’s people were exempted from having to leave their camera cell phones outside a secure area, from ensuring that all their sensitive documents (i.e. Classified, Secret, Top Secret, and higher) were locked up in secure safes overnight, and so on.

To put it simply, the White House stupidly gave itself the right to ignore its own secrecy rules because they were inconvenient or embarrassing for guests. And now we discover that a new Justice Department report finds that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales mishandled sensitive information while at the Justice Department.

Here’s what Gonzales failed to do according to the Justice Department report, in no particular order:

  • Gonzales improperly carried notes about the warrantless wiretapping program in an unlocked briefcase…”
  • Gonzales… failed to keep [notes about the warrantless wiretapping program] in a safe at his Northern Virginia home three years ago because he “could not remember the combination,”
  • Gonzales told investigators that… he did not know [the notes] contained classified information, despite his own markings that they were “top secret — eyes only,”
  • Ultimately, Gonzales stored [the notes] in a safe outside his Justice Department office that was accessible by people who lacked the requisite security clearances….
  • Gonzales also stored 17 other classified documents on electronic surveillance and detainee interrogation programs there. In one instance, employees searching for material related to a Freedom of Information Act request in 2006 sifted through the sensitive material in the safe “document by document,” the report said.

So, Gonzales can’t remember the combination to his own safe, and then left top secret documents in the safe when Justice Department employees did a document-by-document search for FoIA-applicable documents. And apparently he can’t read his own handwriting, either.

I realize that, as the WaPo story says, officials who mishandle sensitive information are only rarely prosecuted. That’s part of the problem – when your boss doesn’t take the time to do his own document security correctly, why should you or anyone else, right? Unfortunately, that’s coming down from the very top, namely the White House and the Office of the Vice President. When the President lets his own people be lazy with securing national secrets, it’s only natural that his underlings will do the same.

I’m still disappointed that Rep. Henry Waxman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hasn’t pursued the White House’s mishandling of sensitive information, even if I understand that there’s probably only so much he can do. After all, the President does have the unchallenged authority to exempt his own office from his rules (as set down in Executive Orders), no matter how dumb such an exemption is. But I do hope that House Judiciary Committee Chairman John M. Conyers Jr. pursues Gonzales and demands to know why the Justice Department declined to press charges against Gonzales for his rank stupidity.

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