Well would you look at that!
NEW: Former Trump official confirms that WH started placing Trump call transcripts into NSC’s codeword system—effectively concealing them—sometime after Mexico, Australia transcript leaks in 2017.
Experts say doing that poses whole host of natsec risks. https://t.co/WpcngAUS1K
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) September 26, 2019
From Natasha Bertrand at Politico (emphasis mine):
After 2017, when verbatim transcripts of his conversations with the leaders of Australian and Mexico were leaked to the press, the White House began to restrict the number of officials who had access to the transcripts. One former Trump administration official confirmed that the White House started placing transcripts into the codeword system after those leaks.
April Doss, who served as senior minority counsel for the Russia investigation on the Senate Intelligence Committee and, prior to that, as a top attorney at the National Security Agency, said the S//OC//NF designation of the memo “seems like a typical level of classification for that kind of call.”
That classification indicates that the disclosure of the call would cause “serious damage” to national security, cannot be disseminated by anyone except the originator, and is prohibited from disclosure to foreign nationals. A code word classification, meanwhile, is top secret—a level higher than secret—and then further compartmentalized by adding a code word so that only those who have been cleared for each code word can see it.
Doss said it would be “highly unusual” for this kind of routine call between world leaders to be placed into a system that’s used for information about the nation’s most highly compartmented programs. “It risks undermining a whole host of important national security activities,” she said, noting that “most if not all” officials who would need to have access to call readouts as part of carrying out their regular duties in advising on foreign affairs and implementing the administration’s policies “would not have access” to the codeword system.
The president has ultimate classification authority and it’s an open legal question whether he’s bound by executive orders, including one signed by Obama in 2009 that says information can’t be classified in order to “conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error” or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency.”
But it would be squarely within the whistleblower’s rights, as governed by the 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, to sound the alarm over the potential violation of that executive order, Doss said—especially if it was done by the president’s staff. That in turn could at least partly be why the IC IG considered it to be within the intelligence community’s purview, despite the DNI’s determination that it fell outside their jurisdiction.
A former intelligence official who served on Obama’s National Security Council, but who wished to remain anonymous to discuss the NSC’s codeword-level system, agreed that storing a transcript on that system “would severely limit those personnel able to view it.”
While limited in what he could disclose about the system without revealing classified information, the official said, “The bottom line is that if the administration attempted to upload the transcript to that system it would have been to make it nearly impossible to share. The system was not intended for unclassified material.”
He added that he’d “never” seen a presidential transcript stored there. Pfeiffer said that he could not recall ever seeing a transcript stored there, but said it would’ve only been possible if a president’s calls “touched on compartmented matters requiring that protection.”
As I delineated this morning, misclassifying this information by upclassifying it so it can be “locked down” prevents those who need to know this information from actually being able to access it and know it. Doing this to protect the President from himself, creates a serious insider threat and counterintelligence problem for the United States because it makes it almost impossible for senior national security and intelligence personnel to know what they need to know to both accurately and effectively carry out US national security and foreign policy, as well as to protect US interests because they do not know what the President is saying to, hearing from, agreeing with, and/or agreeing to do in his conversations with foreign leaders. The fact that the people that the President has hired into senior political appointments at the White House are unable to control themselves enough to not settle scores between themselves by viciously leaking about each other and the President to the press is not an excuse to mishandle and misclassify US government information. It is a good reason to hire better and more professional people.
And since the White House Counsel’s Office allegedly approved doing this, Don McGahn, Pat Cipollone, and their staff need to be brought before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to explain what it was and is they’re doing regarding classification of information. Their clearances should also be stripped and their access to classified information stopped immediately.