Top Secret (Not)

This past week, a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard was arrested for the unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified defense information. See,

What intrigues Spirited Reasoners about this case is not so much the fact of the leak. After all, leaks have become an expected part of our national political discourse. Instead, we are more fascinated by the underlying questions, among which are the following:

  • Why was such a young, relatively low-ranking, airman granted top secret security clearance?  If the NPR story cited above is accurate—and we have no reason to doubt it—then the young man was apparently granted that clearance in 2021, meaning he might have been a mere teenager when the access was granted.
  • Who granted him that access? Someone, somewhere in the Department of Defense has some ‘splainin’ to do.
  • How many other young, relatively low-ranking people currently enjoy Top Secret clearance in military bases around the world?
  • How do we know one or more of these other young, relatively low-ranking, individuals are not currently sharing information with our enemies? (Note in the Massachusetts case, it appears the young man in question only intended to share the material with participants in a closed chatroom. It was one of the other participants who shared the material further, though that’s the sort of behavior that ought to be expected when secrets are shared.)
  • What U. S. intelligence operatives may have been harmed by the disclosure of information they may have obtained at great risk to their lives and/or safety? Of course, we do not expect our government to tell us the names of the authors of the documents that were posted. But potential leakers should at least be made aware of the fact that they are risking the lives of other people whenever they share classified information.  
  • What steps are being taken to close these loopholes before they threaten to undermine our ability to gather future intelligence?

The sad aspect of this case is that all of us, when we were young people, tended to act irresponsibly at times. In this case, it appears that the young man wasn’t looking to share secrets with our enemies or even damage U. S. defense capabilities. He just wanted to impress his friends. But, as in the case of a young man who decides to impress his friends by driving drunk, he may soon learn the long-term consequences of his thoughtless behavior.

Meanwhile, Spirited Reasoners trust that the folks in charge of granting these top-secret clearances will also be facing appropriate consequences for their negligence—consequences that should increase in severity the more foolish the nature of the access they have granted and the longer these loopholes remain unplugged.

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