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Burn After Reading: Why Classified Documents Don't Matter
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The strange story at the top of the headlines — the current president and the most recent former president are both the subject of special-counsel investigations for taking home classified documents when they left the White House — rests upon two premises. One is patently false. The other is brazenly silly.

Americans believe their nation exists in a terrifying state of endless peril. Propagandized by popular culture and the media, we imagine that we’re constantly teetering at the precipice of collapse or subjugation, surrounded by clever and ruthless fiendish enemies hellbent on undermining, attacking and ultimately destroying the United States and turning us into their slaves.

The era of great invading armies and empire-building is over. In our world, borders are largely settled so empires are built via economic influence rather than territorial gains. Bigger countries bump up against each other at the edges in search of incremental advantage.

Fewer nations in history have never been less at risk than the U.S. in 2023. Buffered by vast oceans and bordered by vassal states, enjoying total command of the world’s oceans, the U.S. is uniquely impervious to invasion. No nation-state has launched a military attack on the mainland U.S. since the War of 1812 — and we started that one. (In an attempt to buy time, warn us away from the western Pacific and to convince us to drop our oil embargo, Imperial Japan picked Pearl Harbor as a target because it was located on a remote American colony that was not yet a state. The Japanese didn’t think we would care as much as we did.) The danger to the U.S. is from within: right-wing counterrevolution, secession, disintegration, environmental or economic collapse.

None of the “threats” we worry about — Russia, China, Iran, North Korea — want a war with the U.S., much less to invade. When U.S. adversaries saber-rattle, their motivation is to dissuade us from attacking them. To paraphrase Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” we are not the one who gets attacked. We are the one who attacks.

The hysterical reaction to the classified-documents idiocy rests on a cartoonish worldview derived from watching too many Bourne movies. In the fevered imagination of political-thriller scriptwriters, we would be totally screwed if the wrong Super Duper Important Document were to fall into the clutches of an Evil Enemy of America.

There is no such document.

When, if ever, has a classified document ever been so explosive that it represented a serious threat to national security? Almost certainly never. The exposure of classified material can lead to the theft of technology or the capture or murder of intelligence agents. And when such breaches have occurred, they have been inconveniences that required cleanups and workarounds. They were not existential dangers to the American nation-state. Nuclear launch codes are changed daily, so it wouldn’t even matter if a nefarious foreigner were to nick yesterday’s “Gold Codes” off the president’s desk.

The problem with classified documents is not the possibility that Donald Trump might, in the ridiculously overheated speculation by mainstream media outlets that ought to know better, sell them to the highest bidder. The problem is that there are too many of them.


Overclassification is wildly out of control. Publicly available news articles are marked “top secret.” Should we impeach President Joe Biden over keeping some of these next to his car? Description of foreign cultural practices, like wedding ceremonies, are marked “confidential,” so you can be prosecuted as a felon under the Espionage Act for mishandling one. The U.S. government has kept documents classified for a full century; in 2011, the CIA finally declassified World War I-era memos explaining how to expose invisible ink.

“Everything’s secret,” former CIA/NSA director Michael Hayden remarked. “I mean, I got an email saying, ‘Merry Christmas.’ It carried a Top Secret NSA classification marking.”

Get a grip, people!

There would be no effect whatsoever if 99.99999% of classified documents were to be posted to the internet. Since that’s almost certainly the case about all the documents found in Biden’s garage and at Mar-a-Lago, it would be nice if both major political parties were to drop the posturing over the presidents’ sloppy record management and focus on real problems that affect real Americans every single day: climate change, health care for profit, high college tuition, the prison industrial complex, brutal and racist police, unemployment, homelessness, unaffordable housing.

Where would the money come from? We could start by abolishing the unnecessary agencies that churn out those zillions of useless classified documents.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Government Secrecy, Joe Biden 
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  1. tyrone says:

    Oh well they BOTH did it , see how that works , now we know the real reason Trump was raided , to cover the real crime by Biden ……..if Rall was a fish he would be a sucker.

    • Agree: BuelahMan
  2. Actually there likely are some documents that would cause some thing of a crisis if released: (1) the actual story about 9/11 including who pulled it off; (2) who actually killed JFK; (3) the FBI v. CIA battle that led to Nixon be ousted in Watergate; (4) exactly how many and which European politicians the US has bought and paid for; (5) who killed Princess Diana; (6) who killed MLK; (7) who killed RFK; (8) if there are actually real nuclear warheads on any British missile submarine; (9) how many nuclear weapons Israel has and what places they are actually targeted at; and (10) why the US “launched” COVID at China and Iran when it was so little prepared to deal with the blowback (or was the blowback a feature because COVID kills fat people and diabetics).

    All of those documents would be earth shattering.

    • Agree: Sollipsist
  3. Ted is 50/50 on his observations (get a little more nuance on Pearl Harbor, big guy), but he’s absolutely right that the “national security” excuse is ridiculously abused by the government.

    All of our ‘security agencies’ put together can’t keep essential info from determined spies — but they CAN keep it secret from the taxpayers and truthseekers.

    They’re not protecting us from our foreign enemies, they’re protecting our real domestic enemies (the institutional parasites) from us.

  4. ruralguy says:

    I worked in the Defense world for a long time. The reason we classify data is to avoid giving away our capabilities. You can see the deadly consequences of failing to do this, during WW2 and post WW2. The Soviets were running weekly or monthly scheduled cargo flights, out of America during WW2, that were often jammed with classified documents stolen from us, thus giving them key and expensive research. They copied our nuclear devices, missiles, transport aircraft, etc, by targeting the Roosevelt’s administration who employed large numbers of communist sympathizers. Senator Joseph McCarthy was right about the level of communist subversion in the Government. He was fed the danger from the Defense world. Without that theft, the Soviet Union would never have been as powerful an adversary during the Cold War. That loss of classified data nearly led to a nuclear war. We turned the tables on them during the Cold War. We knew of all their capabilities and we had the means to neutralize them. Keeping data classified is essential in any conflict with friend or foe, where cooperation is never assured. We also needed to keep much research classified, to benefit our economy. Most Americans failed to grasp that the quality of engineering and research in the Defense world far outstripped the Commercial world. An Italian economist found that 95% of the technology in an Apple phone derived from this Defense world. Much of the technology that you use derives from Defense technology developed over 40 years ago.

    I do agree with Ted Rall that the main threat is now internal. But, it is a threat from the Woke/Left that has turned this nation into a failed third world country. The threat is not from the right, which tried to defend this country.

    • Agree: tyrone
    • Disagree: Chris Mallory
  5. Anonymous[197] • Disclaimer says:

    More to the point, most US classified is illegal, in breach of the supreme law of the land.

    In the travaux préparatoires of the UN Transnational Organized Crime convention (UNTOC,) the single biggest controversy was the US attempt (through its Canadian satellite) to stick in a national security exemption. The entire fucking world said Nunh-unh. Because everybody knows CIA uses national security for impunity for its transnational organized crime; say the magic words and get away with it.

    Several executive orders prevent classification to conceal official crime, but CIA flouts them all. Now, though, we have a binding agreement maintained by international pressure and not bullshit US courts with judges that CIA bribes and blackmails up the ass.

    UNTOC, equivalent to federal statute under 175 U.S. 677 (1900), restricts the scope of its national security exemption to actions consistent with the UN Charter. If you’ve ever had a clearance you know that all the most classified stuff is CIA shitting on the UN Charter. Deniability is inadmissible. CIA crime is crime, whether the state conceals it or not. So classified is subject to international legal assistance and all the applicable UNTOC provisions.

    CIA’s torture and arbitrary detention of Julian Assange is manifestly carried out to conceal state crime, as collateral murder shows. Any aggrieved treaty party could demand an interview with Assange and establish this and CIA’s concomitant crimes in universal jurisdiction.

    So fuck the First Amendment, that shit’s revoked. To get our information freedom we’ve got to go over this government’s head to the outside world.

  6. The Deep State is chasing the former President away from contesting the elections again in 2024.

    And the current President is being blackmailed, not to send more weapons and men to Ukraine, but to stop the WWIII. At least one faction of the Deep State has finally understood Putin is serious about protecting Russia’s interests, and it is not worth the trouble to push him beyond a point. Unfortunately Putin is playing by the rules of the last Cold War, and the current crop in the American Deep State are highly ignorant about that.

    • Replies: @botazefa
  7. SafeNow says:

    A few days ago I offered the following as an explanation of why men fight wars. Now I will apply it to why men classify documents:

    William James wrote 100 years ago that war makes men feel that their life is operating upon “a higher plane.” Similarly, John Fowles wrote that war makes men feel serious and makes them feel women will not laugh at them.

    I can sort of understand the power of “It’s classified.” Let’s say I was hanging out with the guys at the sports bar for two hours, and dinner gets spoiled. When I get home, my explanation to Mrs. SafeNow is simply “It’s classified.”

  8. @ruralguy

    Was the Soviet Union really such an adversary in the phony Cold War? US Army Intelligence had assessed it as being too badly mauled by Germany to be a credible threat. As late as 1953 half its army transports were horse-drawn, for pity’s sake. The GOP wanted back in to national power so they cooked up the whole Red Menace thing (with the connivance of the OSS/CIA and its recruited Nazi intelligence chief) in order to create an issue to oust the Democratic coalition that had ruled since 1933. And whoever “leaked atomic secrets” to the USSR saved us from carrying the guilt of murdering an entire nation – the Pentagon was seriously contemplating an annihilating preemptive atomic strike, but that became impossible once Russia had the ability to retaliate in kind.

    • Replies: @ruralguy
  9. Things are “classified” to protect the guilty. At least that’s what I got from the Snowden and Assange releases.

  10. botazefa says:
    @Old Brown Fool

    And the current President is being blackmailed, not to send more weapons and men to Ukraine, but to stop the WWIII.

    I think the opposite is more likely – that the CIA wants M1 tank deliveries to Ukraine and Uncle Joe’s handlers are getting cold feet about the whole thing..

    One thing I wish more Americans understood is, whether Biden or Trump, the worship of classified documents is a peccadillo only of the CIA. So, we know who the true enemy is.

  11. ruralguy says:

    Our ICBMs, SLBMs, bombers, and cruise missiles were adaptable, but they were engineered not for counterforce targeting, but for countervalue targeting. I.e. Unlike the Soviets, we didn’t engineer our nuclear assets for preemptive strikes (counterforce targeting) to knock out their nuclear assets, but rather to survive a first strike and then knock out their population (countervalue targeting). The Soviets engineered their nuclear assets for a first strike. We took advantage of that during Reagan’s “SDI/Star Wars” gambit, to force them into a prohibitively expensive upgrade, to impose on them impossible response times for which they lacked the technology. They couldn’t, so that ended their threat.

    The Soviet Union was decimated in WW2. Yet, the Red Menace was very real. Communism killed over 100 million people in the 20th century. The Nazi party arose as a reaction against violent communist revolts in Germany, during the chaotic aftermath of world war 1. The Communist revolutionaries in Germany were inspired by the successful Bolshevik revolution in Russia. The Nazi party clearly stated their primary mission was to oppose communists in Germany. They were heavily funded by German Industrialists to stop the spread of communism. Because so many leaders of the Communist revolt were Jewish, they were demonized in Germany.

    The Soviet Union continued to fund the spread of violent Communists revolutions throughout the world, after WW2. Its menace was primarily these violent revolts, not armed struggle between nations. Both China and the Soviet Union knew their strength was in these, rather than the wars which nearly disabled their nations. We now know from released accounts that the Soviet and Chinese leaders admitted the Korean war devasted them. They told North Vietnam who sought their aid, that they could never survive another Korean-style war. The North Vietnamese leaders also admitted that they nearly gave up after the Linebacker aerial bombing of North Vietnam.

    The Red Menace was very real, Observator. Communism slaughtered over 100 million people during that time. Conservatives in both Germany and America were trying to stop it.

  12. @Harry Huntington

    Those docs might (temporarily) cause a little more sturm und drang than most, but would not be earth-shattering. Our current political tribalism prevents adult conversations and real progress.

  13. @Harry Huntington

    You forgot the documents that explain how pristine Saudi passports can be found in the rubble of a fire that was hot enough to melt structural steel.

  14. Legba says:

    It’s weird how classified documents didn’t not matter until Brandon got caught.

    • Replies: @paranoid goy
  15. Very helpful:

    real problems that affect real Americans every single day: climate change, health care for profit, high college tuition, the prison industrial complex, brutal and racist police, unemployment, homelessness, unaffordable housing.

    Climate change: you mean, climatistas gotta have a war?
    Health care for profit: you mean, getting it for free?
    High college tuition: you mean from the proceeds of gubmint student loans?
    Prison industrial complex/brutal and racist police: you mean because of brutal and racist fatherless thugs?
    Unemployment/homelessness: you mean from endless gubmint manipulation of the economy?
    Unaffordable housing: you mean from 85 years of gubmint subsidized loans?

    Thanks. I needed that.

    • Replies: @obwandiyag
  16. TG says:

    Indeed, well said Mr. Rall. But that’s not the point.

    The point of this classified document circus is to distract us from what is really important: the cheap-labor-uber-alles invasion of third world refugees, the trillions of dollars in subsidies to the big banks, the emergence of a national renter cartel, etc.etc.

    Yeah, the Republicans can make a lot of noise about how Biden was as bad as Trump as something that – as pointed out here – means nothing. And maybe the sock-puppet Biden will be replaced by another equally pliable lickspittle corporate sock puppet, or not. Meanwhile the bulk of the working class is looking at being crushed into 12th century serfdom faster than you think…

  17. >> The era of great invading armies and empire-building is over. In our world, borders are largely settled

    Ah, so this guy is mentally ill and only exists to promote communist narratives. Got it.

    >> The danger to the U.S. is from within: right-wing counterrevolution, secession, disintegration, environmental or economic collapse.

    I’m not joking. Cut this guy off from this website. Do not pay him. Do not repost his propaganda. Do not give him a platform. Shoot him. Every word here is a proven lie.

    >> When, if ever, has a classified document ever been so explosive that it represented a serious threat to national security? Almost certainly never.

    The Zimmermann telegram, for one, and that was a fake. Oh, and the documents that the filthy jew Rosenbergs stole from the US and gave to the USSR for the sake of their nuclear program… And all the documents that Israel stole from us and then sold to China… you know, off the top of my head. The camp communications within Germany during WWII that the British intercepted, proving the holocaust never happened (and therefore that the entirety of every single event in the last 80 years, worldwide, has been a fraud).

    You know. “Almost certainly never.”

    >> Nuclear launch codes are changed daily

    Admitted lie, but keep up the delusions.

    >> Should we impeach President Joe Biden over keeping some of these next to his car?

    No, execute him.

    >> real problems that affect real Americans every single day: climate change…

    Someone kill this man. I am not joking or exaggerating. Get him off this website.

    >>brutal and racist police

    Yeah, they attack whites more than any other race.

  18. @Christopher Chantrill

    No. I mean the goddam rent’s too high, idiot.

  19. @ruralguy

    It amazes me how ludicrously black and white so many people are.

    Globohomo deep state is bad (correct) therefore everything that the US doesn’t like is good. USSR did nothing wrong, China good, Russia good.

    How about all of them are fucking bad? The USSR were a massive threat, this wasn’t some glowie invention. How people pretend otherwise boggles the mind.

    • Replies: @Tallest Skil
  20. @obwandiyag

    Every word he said is correct. You’ve provided nothing to the contrary. Fuck off, commie shill.

  21. @Shitposter_in Chief

    Isn’t that exactly what he said? The commies were a threat. The fear people had of communism conquering the world at the time was true, not (as the modern revisionists claim) an exaggeration or hoax.

    • Agree: ruralguy
    • Replies: @ruralguy
  22. He is, but he’s replying to others who weren’t. Heaps of people on TUR pretend that the KGB were angels, that Russia and China do nothing wrong and that the US are the only bad guys (plus a bit of UK and Israel)

    • Agree: ruralguy
  23. ruralguy says:
    @Tallest Skil

    Good points, Tallest Skil and Shitposter_in Chief. Lefties who flock to Unz likely have doubts about their beliefs. Obwandiyag’s only response is “liar,” not a word about what is objectionable. I doubt many are interested in history or political philosophies. Their beliefs really are shaped more by solving personal psychological issues, through politics, so their responses tend to be violent and emotional. The Lefties today are no different than yesteryears’ Communists. Different actors, but they play out the same drama. They will always be dangerous.

  24. A123 says: • Website

    “There is timing in everything.
    Timing in strategy cannot
    be mastered without a
    great deal of practice.”
    — Miyamoto Musashi

    Had the author written this piece many months ago, it would have been better received.

    Despite the marked covers, DECLASSIFIED documents were taken from Mar-a-Lago in a spectacle like manner. That would have been a good time to ask the question, “Should they have ever been classified?”

    Now, the current regime has histrionically overhyped documents into a critical issue. The window for a strategic discussion about classification standards has been nailed shut for the foreseeable future.

    RULE 4: “Make the enemy live
    up to its own book of rules.”
    — Saul Alinsky

    While the American people are less astute about some things that I may like, they do have a keen sense for hypocrisy in action. After creating the Mar-a-Lago standard, the Democrats now have to live up to that RULE.

    Finding documents in a garage is much worse than the proper, secure facility at Mar-a-Lago. They date back to both his VP and Senator service, so the chances of going through declassification is slim to none. Impeachment and a Senate Trial are not impossible, though the MAGA team would likely want to reserve that spotlight for election fraud.

    Will Kamala take over the White House?

    On the merits, this seems likely. It is clear that the current mental vegetable is a liability. Every time he gets near a microphone, it requires a team on hot standby to walk back & cover his gaffes.

    However, unlike cabinet and judicial appointments, a replacement VP selection must be also be approved by the House.

    25th Amendment: Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

    With Speaker McCarthy one heartbeat away the Presidency, he would have little motivation to confirm a new VP. To avoid this scenario, the DNC may continue to prop up the current regime until it ends in January 2025.

    PEACE 😇

  25. Veracity says:

    Ya that’ s right ruralguy. They want to steal our hypersonic missile tech and leapfrog ahead. Keeping it classified sure stopped the Israelis from stealing nuclear secrets and even the fissionable material and hardware to become a nuclear power.
    The USSR was strong and fended the US off with MAD but were no match on the margins. The US injured itself, and countless millions of others, by choosing the wrong battlefields.

  26. Mac_ says:

    Premise, too many supposedly secret papers. Agree and though personally view things from the position that none is valid, the word ‘state’, some papers or buildings or people dictating at us as if some sort of ‘automatic’, continues to be allowed, but isn’t natural. So outside assuming an image, ‘system’ cyst-ems, made by cons, from that view, my position is should be no state and obviously no secrets. False wars, bailouts, covid tyrants every state, bogus courts preying on people, tax on tax, utility monopoly conned by cabalers and state cons, etc, I don’t agree on any of it, much less the cons having secrets. Thing to recognize, is there is no ‘we’, there is them, then the rest of us. Supposed ‘security’ has always been fraud cover. Their false ‘wars’ invading others, bogus schemes arent cover for ‘secrets’.

    In reality, the only people oppressing or threatening us are them, they don’t ‘protect anything, now telling us to shut up with their ‘hate speech’ con, threatening ‘red flag laws’, total surveilance, anything computer/web surveiled, intersection cams aren’t ‘traffic or ‘red light which are behind intersections, not over, listening on fones, cameras in fones behind screen, microphone on even when fone off, and behind screens in ‘tvs’. The mass ‘cyber centers’ in ‘utah’ and about seven other places, millions sq ft of con machines, how do we know there aren’t thousands of pervs spying on us beside state cons and corporation cons.

    The main point is secrets isn’t separate subject, its same as their surveilence schemes, and every else. If the situation were even remotely valid we would have cameras and microphones on them at all times, and we would not allow any surviellance around us.

    Article subject is one people don’t think of often, appreciated Ted.

  27. @Legba

    Didn’t not matter? Then suddenly it not mattered? Sounds convoluted but right…
    Then again, we were told that part of Trump’s stash of classified documents consisted mostly of fancy menu cards and embossed invitations.
    At least that’s what the libtards accused him of, disrespecting the People by stealing History?

  28. @ruralguy


    I read your post and although I am sure you had good intentions in writing it, you seem to be very mis-informed about a couple of things. First of all, the United States has been supplying much of its technology to Russia since Russia’s 1917 revolution. Antony Sutton, Ph.D. (now deceased), did a tremendous amount of research on this and used the USA’s own documents as reference material for the excellent books that he wrote on the subject. Check out his books; they are very worthwhile reading.

    The other point that I would like to make is that in your post, you seem to be implying that the United States military can simply purchase from American manufacturers all the material it needs, including material for fighting wars. I venture to say that the United States military now relies on FOREIGN suppliers for at least 50% of its needs – the main supplier being China.

    There was a reason why Antony Sutton published a book with the title “The Best Enemy Money Can Buy.”

    Thank you.

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