The National Archives loses government documents

McFarlin Library keeps better track of books than the federal government keeps track of classified documents.

A surprising new trend among former and current public officials seems to be emerging: finding stashes of classified documents at homes and offices of executive officials. Both President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence have turned over documents leftover from their times as VP. Similarly, the FBI raided Mar-A-Lago in the fall and uncovered a multitude of classified documents Donald Trump has held onto.

While it may be easy to equate these three situations and draw a conclusion that they are all on the same footing, that conclusion is categorically false. While Biden and Pence certainly made grave errors in handling vital documents, these papers were handed over by legal teams following their discovery. Both Pence and Biden assured the public that thorough searches would be conducted to locate any other documents still in their possession, as well as stating emphatically that this was not done out of malice.

Trump, however, is a different story. He did not hand over his cache of classified documents, the FBI confiscated them. He did not claim this as a mistake. Horrifying as that is on its own, some of these classified document folders were, indeed, empty. The empty files could have just simply been shredded, or met some other innocuous end. With the Trump administration, though, that seems to hardly be the case. For example, a seemingly suspicious investment into Jared Kushner’s new company sparked a slew of opinion articles from the New York Times and others that he had sold classified documents to Saudi Arabia. This speculation eventually led to a House Oversight Committee investigation into this $2 billion contribution.

No matter the intentions behind these misplaced classified documents, it seems nonsensical that they can just go missing. Does the National Archives not work like a library? If an official can just walk around with classified documents willy-nilly, with no record of where those documents are, it seems like they would get misplaced constantly.

If three former and current elected officials can be in illegal possession of these documents with no one seeming to know, the system seems very ineffective. If these documents are so sensitive, why are they even allowed out of the Archive’s possession? Why are they not accounted for at all times? McFarlin Library seems to have a better system of keeping track of materials than the federal government.

The National Archives seems so ineffective, in fact, that they have now called upon all former presidents and vice presidents to conduct searches of their homes and offices for classified documents. No one knows who has what.

While a lot of classified documents are largely harmless, some could be useful to foreign, antagonistic governments. Some documents, such as the identities of U.S. secret agents, are of key interest to enemies of the state. Without a more effective filing system, there is essentially no way to know if, how many or which classified government documents have landed in foreign hands. Every president, vice president and anyone else that has access to classified documents of any level must be diligent in their regard for sensitive materials such as these. If the American government does not know where its classified documents are, its enemies certainly might.

Post Author: Victoria Grossman