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ANALYSIS | JAMES PINDELL

It’s no longer a secret that America has a problem with government secrets. Here’s why.

The Pentagon is seen from a flight taking off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on November 29, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia.Alex Wong/Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Im

Federal agents on Thursday descended on the Dighton home of Jack Teixeira, the 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guardsman now charged with leaking classified material so sensitive it rocked world capitals from Washington to Kyiv to Moscow.

Teixeira allegedly shared the government documents with a group of 30 or so friends online, doing so partly to “educate” them and partly to show off, according to reports in the New York Times and Washington Post.

Interviews those publications conducted with Teixeira’s online gamer friends describe the person they called “O.G.” not as a whistleblower or some type of vigilante. He was, one person alleged, trying to “keep us in the loop.” High school classmates described Teixeira as a quiet but kind loner, who had a fascination with the military and history.

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Whatever the circumstances, the fact that an IT specialist three years out of high school had access to such wide-ranging, top-secret documents in the first place is, in a word, stunning.

Of course, it’s not a secret that America has a problem keeping its secret documents secret. Former President Donald Trump is being investigated by the Justice Department for his handling of classified documents after he left the White House. Former Vice President Mike Pence and President Biden were both recently found to be in possession of classified documents. It’s not only a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman barely old enough to walk into a bar who’s getting into trouble here.

There are several theories as to why this is happening.

One is the fact that, as the Teixeira case shows, we live in an increasingly digital world. The old days, when only so many physical copies of a classified report were typed up, are long gone. It seems increasingly clear that security procedures have not kept up with the technology.

Second, there may be too many people with security clearances — and access to classified information. There are now so many people with an American security clearance that the government cannot say how many people have it. In 2019, the government’s best guess was that around 2.9 million people had some level of clearance, and 1.25 million of them were able to access top-secret information.

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Third is that there may be too many items being labeled classified. While we don’t know exactly what was in a box at Mike Pence’s Indiana home or sitting next to Biden’s Corvette in Delaware, presumably not every document contained nuclear codes.

We might soon get answers about exactly what classified documents Trump, and Biden, had. This past week, Senators Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, got intelligence agencies to agree to show them and a small group of other Congressional leaders what they found when they raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in August or what they took from different Biden offices, material presumably from his time as vice president.

This rare level of government oversight is being hailed as a significant shift toward transparency.

What should be abundantly clear now is that the U.S. government’s classified information system is broken and some type of reform is needed.

While the topic is secretive and technical by nature, the security issue has become so acute that voters may demand that presidential candidates have a plan to fix the system, just as they might on health care or immigration.

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This is, after all, a group of candidates that would seem to have a lot of knowledge in the area. Two likely candidates served as president. Two as vice president.

It might be among the most important conversations in the campaign.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.