Torn Between Two Topics

I was torn between two topics  for the Sunday article. They had a common theme: when will they learn, but I didn’t want to combine them in fear I would dilute the impact. Here is the second of them.

Last week a 21-year-old was arrested for his handling (or should I say mishandling) of classified documents. Most of us were aghast to learn that he was a very low-ranking member of a national guard unit. (I’m not demeaning the National Guard; this is about age and rank.) We shouldn’t have been; it was another case of history repeating itself and it left most of us shaking our heads.

I’m not going to get ahead of law enforcement and investigators but it appears that this case was someone trying to show off to his online buddies. Speaking of law enforcement and investigators, it appears the media, primarily the New York Times, tracked down the perpetrator first. If true, that is another matter of concern.

Today’s concern is just how classified documents are being handled and who has access to them. A former president showing off classified maps to unauthorized buddies in order to impress them is one matter. After all he was the president and he had to be given the initial access; the “back end” of that transaction is what is concerning. This is someone who is hardly out of their teens showing off to teenage boys.

This is the third high profile case of a low ranking – and in one case not even military – young person with access to highly classified documents who chose to publicize them. What we may think of them and/or their motives is irrelevant. The fact that they had access to these documents in the first place is my concern.

Edward Snowden hadn’t come close to his thirty-fifth birthday when he released classified documents. He was not even a member of the military but a contractor. Academically he was armed with a GED, and that doesn’t stand for graduate engineering degree. He wouldn’t qualify for hiring for millions of jobs in America and we trusted him with highly classified secrets. Am I the only one who see the problem here? In the aftermath of this affair did we tighten up security and change procedures? Apparently not. And if we did, not sufficiently so.

Then we had the case of Chelsea Manning. Manning, who was in her early 20s at the time, held the rank of Private First Class in the Army. I’d prefer that highly classified information was only available to officers, and even then, I’d like to see captains (in Army rankings) or above. This means that they were promoted within the officer ranks more than once. We spend a ton of money (sometimes, in my opinion, wasted in the cases of people like Mike Flynn and Mike Pompeo) on educating these people. “Clerical” or computer work with documents might not be glamourous or the fast track to early promotion but we need to make it the latter.

The bottom line is that repeatedly we are giving low ranking, young people access to highly classified documents and it’s blowing up in our faces. Note: these are just a few examples off the top of my head. What about the ones I forgot about and the ones – and you have to bet they happened – that were kept from the public?

Another common denominator is that access seems to involve computer expertise that older people (am I a prime example!) simply do not have. That excuse has passed it’s sell by date. Plenty of time has elapsed since the Snowden incident to have gotten several classes through our service academies or our non-military colleges with sufficient computer expertise. Again, if it’s a matter of prestige or fast track within the military it is a cultural problem that is easily solved.

I hope I’m wrong but my guess is that this will be another situation like our gun problem where we will do a lot of nothing and it will happen again.

When will we learn? It reminds me somewhat of the old Dutch proverb: We get too old too soon and too late smart.

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