The Classification Culture

The Trump Indictment Brings Up the Subject of Classified Documents

In the last sentence of the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln penned the famous phrase, “… this  nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom—and that  government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln’s soaring rhetoric presupposes the ‘people’ would have at the least a rudimentary knowledge of what their government was up to. Heaven knows some secrets were held from the citizen, especially during the Civil War, but nowhere the number there are today. Many critics in favor of a bloated government and support of intelligence quickly point to the fact that the world has grown much more complex and dangerous, and the need to keep things classified is an absolute necessity.  As the demand for classification grows, so does the need for more personnel to handle those requests.  It is common for a twenty-one-year-old today to have top security clearance, showing how many employees have their hands on national secrets, all hired, none elected.

Lincoln could have never envisioned a time when a bureaucratic labyrinth would effectually nullify the election process, substantially changing the government of, by, and for the people into a vast fourth branch of government, the national intelligence apparatus.

Unelected officials under the sacrosanct umbrella of national security have been given, or they have assumed the job of making policy affecting every citizen without ever having to deal with the messy election process of a government for the people. These agencies choose what information they will let the public know and what they won’t. They continue doing whatever they want daily, immune to criticism and accountability. National intelligence is the fourth branch of government, never intended or mentioned in the Constitution as a necessity for governance.  

The recent indictment of former President Donald Trump brings to mind just one of the significant ways the government is no longer of the people, by the people, and for the people. According to the complaint, the recent indictment of Trump has to do with the mishandling of classified documents dealing with national security. The current charges against Trump only beg the question of what a classified document is and why there are so many classified documents.

The New York Times, hardly a right-wing paper, estimates that the United States has tens of millions of classified documents. The Times also reports that the federal government regularly classifies over 50 million pieces of information annually—a staggering number of documents unavailable to the American public and their Representatives yearly.  When the classification bureaucracy is questioned about any classified document, the same old responses are regurgitated ad nauseum. “It is a matter of national security or an ongoing investigation.”  Following their logic, the JFK assassination must still be under investigation, or the fear that some national security secrets would be exposed because the documents have not been fully released. JFK was tragically murdered in 1963. Does anybody still believe there are relevant national security issues this many years later?

Any serious person will concede that the classification of some documents is necessary for national security and investigations, but 50 million a year seems excessive. The classification culture has more to do with keeping those agencies from being impeached than anything else. Without access to information, these agencies can never be held accountable for their actions. The agencies have become an extra-governmental form of leadership, often promulgating laws and regulations without any input from the citizens. This is precisely what is happening now; agencies like the CIA and FBI can go rogue because there is no possible way to keep them in check. They can’t be voted out of office, and without any meaningful regulation, they become a power center unto themselves.  Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democratic from New York, admitted the independent might of the intelligence agencies when he responded to Trump’s criticism of intelligence by saying, “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community—they have six ways from Sunday to getting back at you.”  

One thing is for sure, the classification culture of the Federal government has long been around and is only getting worse. A free people will only remain free for so long when the classification culture is not challenged because the very structure of elected representatives becomes a moot point. It won’t matter whether Democrats or Republicans are elected; their power to act on their constituent’s behalf is short-circuited by agencies who do not believe they have a responsibility to answer to the public they claim to serve.   

Now that’s a real threat to democracy.

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