Wednesday, January 25, 2023

With Pence Documents Revelation, It Is Time to Start Keeping Classified Information In Digital Format

Another day and another story of an executive official having classified documents stored at his home.  This time it was former Vice President Mike Pence's turn.  This followed the revelations about President Biden and former President Donald Trump's having classified documents at their residences and offices.

Trump supporters are on social media attacking Biden's careless handling of classified documents.  But when it comes to Trump's own transgressions in that area, they are silent.  The one superpower that Trump supporters have is an obliviousness to hypocrisy.  They don't recognize, or they don't care, when they argue positions inconsistent with the position they held before.  Intellectual dishonesty doesn't phase Trump supporters.  That's probably why we ended with someone like Anthony Devolder George Santos in Congress.

Former VP Mike Pence

Of course, Biden and Pence's transgressions aren't remotely similar to Donald Trump's.  Trump had far more classified documents at his residence than Biden or Pence.  And unlike Biden and Pence, Trump refused to cooperate in returning the documents.  He may have even actively obstructed those documents from being discovered.

I have a question this age of electronic documents, why are we still putting classified information on paper?  

Beth Skinner was former deputy director of National Intelligence for Mission Integration.  In that role she oversaw the coordination and collection of intelligence and was involved in presidential briefings (for Trump) on classified information.  She pens an article in CNN saying that it is time for classified information to be kept in digital form instead of on paper:

The recent revelations that both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump retained classified material in unsecured, unauthorized locations while not in government have prompted many to ask, “How could this have happened?”

To be sure, non-partisan efforts to answer that question (and others) and institute rigorous White House record management are required. Even then, however, it is likely more classified material will be discovered “outside the wire” in the future unless we tackle another underlying issue: too much classified paper in circulation.

The mountain of classified material flowing around the White House – and other national security agencies and departments – presents an inherent vulnerability no amount of finger-pointing or procedural reform will solve. As a former White House National Security Council (NSC) staffer, I can attest to the fact there has never been an airtight, centralized process to track this paperwork. Nor would any such effort be effective.

Paper moves, and in most cases, no one knows it is missing unless or until it is found.

So where does this mountain of classified paper come from? Let’s look again at the White House, where it is both routine and essential that staff circulate classified documents with each other and the president.

NSC staff routinely prepare binders of classified documents to inform policy discussions, interactions with foreign leaders and trips abroad. The national security adviser, White House chief of staff and senior NSC staff all provide classified material to the president, sometimes during planned meetings, sometimes impromptu. The intelligence community delivers classified written analysis, charts and maps; throughout the day, the White House Situation Room delivers classified hard-copy intelligence reports, diplomatic communications and policy proposals. These scenes similarly play out at every agency or department involved in national security.

With this in mind, it is easy to imagine how classified material might make its way into the wild, even in the most benign of circumstances. While paper cannot be hacked, it can be intermingled with unclassified material, misfiled, overlooked and carried away, intentionally or not. This creates the potential that sensitive information could be read by anyone encountering it – or worse, lost, with untold consequences, to foreign intelligence.


To lessen the chance of accidental or willful removal of classified information, we must reduce the volume of classified paper at the White House. This means beginning to migrate the circulation of sensitive classified material to tablets, like the iPad or Surface Go, which provide better security and accountability. Like paper, tablets can be misplaced or mishandled, but applying simple tools like controlled network access, passwords and biometric identification and embedding timed wipeout programs reduces the risk that unauthorized individuals or hackers gain access to classified material.

I know this is possible because the intelligence community has been producing the PDB for delivery on tablets to the president and top national security officials since 2012. Six days a week, analysts come to work in the dead of night to compile and curate the PDB and other reports. These briefers then fan out across Washington to deliver the intelligence to the most senior decision-makers, mainly on tablets.

Receiving information on a tablet doesn’t need to be a sacrifice. In fact, the PDB tablet interface is state-of-the-art, elegant and, with some back-end development and support, quite adaptable. Who wouldn’t want a device that could provide seamless updating, the clean organization of material from policy proposals to interactive maps and the ability to annotate with a stylus or keyboard? Based on my experience, I believe the White House could adopt tablet use on at least a limited scale quite quickly.

Paper still has its uses and, of course, for practical reasons there can and should be exceptions to such a digital transition. (Some large maps are easier to digest on paper, for example, while highlighting or extensively annotating a physical copy of a document remains an easier process for many.) But it would be much easier to rigorously track a more limited volume of classified hard-copy material.

The barriers to moving more classified material to a tablet environment are in some respects steep but mainly cultural, based on ingrained practices and the lack of a demand from leadership that has skewed toward boomers. To my peers, let me just say: We have the technology, and it is better than you think.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Indiana Republicans Put Senate Seat in Play if They Nominate Faux Conservative Jim Banks

Earlier this month, Indiana congressman Jim Banks announced he is a candidate for the Mike Braun's seat in the U.S. Senate. Braun is vacating his seat to run for Governor which will also be vacant in 2024 when Governor Erik Holcomb's term comes to an end.

The Indiana GOP doesn't need Jim Banks.  Banks is ultra-MAGA, someone who supported, sans any proof, overturning the 2020 election to hand Donald Trump a second term.  Then he went on to try to derail  an investigation into the January 6th insurrection. 

The Republican Accountability Project had this to say about Banks:

On Nov. 5, Rep. Banks tweeted “Last time, we know from Peter Strzok that Democrats had an insurance policy if Trump won the election… What was Democrats’ plan this time around? And does it include the shady ballot counting happening in WI, MI and PA?? Impossible to believe they didn’t have one.” [Banks[ went from pushing these blatant lies about the election to objecting to certifying the results with no evidence to back up his accusations.

Rep. Banks also failed to hold Trump accountable for his role in sparking the Capitol insurrection, telling a reporter that it was a “far reach” to say Trump bore any responsibility.

Rep. Banks did not vote in support of the bipartisan commission proposal to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Banks is trying to brand himself as a "proven conservative."  He is anything but.  Besides being an election denier and flouting the Constitution that he took an oath to support (hardly conservative positions) he voted for huge spending increases during the Trump era.  Banks has no problem with reckless government long as it is a Republican in the White House.

Given how badly election deniers lost in 2022, the nomination of Banks might put the seat into play, especially since it is a presidential election year when Democrats tend to do better in Indiana. It is easy to see the Democrats picking up a lot more metro Indianapolis area votes if Banks' is on the ballot.  In fact, Banks would probably lose Hamilton County and possibly take several Republicans in that county down with him.

Banks' fellow members of Congress, Tennessee Trey Hollingsworth and Victoria Spartz, are also considering a run for the Senate seat.  However, they are also election deniers, although not as Trumpy as Banks. 

Fortunately, Indiana Republicans may have a better choice in 2024.  Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is considering a run for the Senate.  I was not a big fan of Daniels as Governor.  He seemed to run a very loose ship and many of his appointees engaged in substantial mismanagement, which sometimes bordered on corruption.  Daniels did not seem to exercise much in the way of oversight over state agencies when he was governor. He'd just appoint someone and immediately check out.

But when it comes to developing policy, which is the role of a United States Senator, Daniels is excellent.  While Banks' claim to be a conservative is performative, Daniels is an actual conservative, especially when it comes to fiscal matters.  As President of Purdue University, Daniels stopped the explosive growth in college tuition which has for decades outstripped inflation. 

If it comes down to Banks or Daniels, I'm voting for the true conservative - Mitch Daniels.

OOP's short takes:

  • Two more mass shootings in California in the last few days.  Two more instances in which television networks race to identify the shooter and publicize his (isn't it always a man?) motive.  These mass shooters want to go out in a blaze of glory while promoting their pet cause and those at the TV networks give them exactly what they want.  Then we end up with more shootings.  Not sure why they don't see the connection.  I don't care about newspapers reporting details of the shootings.  That's not what the shooters care about.  It is TV which makes people and their causes famous.  There are a lot of factors which lead to these mass shootings, but we need to stop ignoring television's role.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Blame "Moderate" GOP House Members for Speakership Fiasco, Not MAGA Representatives

It took 15 ballots to elect a speaker of the United House of Representatives. Much of the blame for the fiasco that played out over several days was aimed at the extreme-MAGA representatives who held out against voting for, now, Speaker Kevin McCarthy.  That blame is misplaced.  The blame should instead be laid at the feet of the rest of the GOP conference, the representatives who thought it was a good idea to make concession after concession to the MAGA crowd in order to make McCarthy speaker.

I have to question any member of Congress who thinks McCarthy actually has such good leadership skills that no better option was available.  McCarthy had proven himself to be not particularly bright, a spineless, shape-shifter without any core beliefs other than he should be Speaker.  McCarthy fancies himself a "leader" when in fact all he does is to try to find out which way the crowd is going so he can sprint out in front of it.  There are plenty of people who in Congress who have better leadership qualities, but members of the GOP conference insisted it had to be Kevin McCarthy or bust.  And they busted.  The Republican Party now has a Speaker that has been totally stripped of power to do his job, all because the crazy MAGA-wing refused to vote for McCarthy until he was completely neutered as a leader.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy

It didn't have to be that way.  There was an easy way out. The GOP conference could easily have put the MAGA reps in their place by simply cutting a deal for a few Democratic votes for Speaker.  It wouldn't have taken much.  Increased Democratic membership on the committees might have been enough to do the trick.  Republicans would have still run things in the House with such a deal.  Now that McCarthy has given the MAGA crazies everything they want, they will be running the House of Representatives, not the 95% of Republicans who voted for McCarthy through 15 votes.

McCarthy proved he didn't care about anything other than his having the title of Speaker.  His ambition, while foolish, is understandable.  I don't blame him or the MAGA House members who were simply acting as crazy as ever.  They were just being who they are. 

Rather, I blame the Republican members of the House, the ones often mislabeled as "moderates" because they are not entirely MAGA crazy.  They surely knew that McCarthy's quest was foolish and his concessions would hurt the GOP's ability to run the chamber.  Yet they did not look for alternatives to McCarthy's cutting deals with the crazy caucus.   

The American people deserve better.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Political Winners and Losers of 2022

I was tied up with some things last week, so I only now have been able to identify the political winners and losers of 2022.  Although I've numbered them, they are in no particular order.

Biggest Winners

1.  President Joe Biden -  On July 14th, over 75% of the people in the Real Clear Politics polling average said that the country was on the wrong track, the worst number registered in 2022.  A week later, President Joe Biden's job approval hit its low mark for the year, measuring nearly 20 points underwater.  Despite bad polling numbers, Biden succeeded in getting several groundbreaking bills passed and then went on to an historically good mid-term election for a first term incumbent President.  Biden has now strengthened his position to the point that, if he wants the nomination again in 2024, it is his.

2.  Florida Republican Party - My first inclination was to list Governor Ron DeSantis as the "winner" given his strong performance in his re-election bid.  But then I took a look at two other down ballot Florida races, for Attorney General and Treasurer.  The Republican candidates in those races actually outperformed, albeit slightly, DeSantis.  That shows how strong the GOP brand has become in Florida.  The Republican Party in Florida has learned to attract Latino votes, a lesson that other Republicans in the country could emulate.

3.  Georgia Republican Party -  Like DeSantis, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp won easily in his re-election effort.  But, also like DeSantis, Kemp trailed a number of Republican statewide candidates in the Peach State.  The best performing statewide candidate in Georgia was actually Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who earned the ire of Donald Trump for refusing to "find" enough votes for Trump to win the state.  While Trump's Senate recruit Herschel Walker lost, that sole Republican statewide defeat wasn't because of the GOP brand but because of Walker's unique horribleness as a candidate  

4.  National Democratic Party - With inflation soaring, it seemed certain that the Democrats would be slaughtered in the midterms.  Instead, Democrats overcame those numbers and history to do shockingly well in the midterms, losing only a handful of seats in the House, gaining a seat in the Senate, and gaining a couple governorships.  

5.  New York Congressional Republican Candidates - Republicans scored three upset wins in New York congressional races.  These Long Island districts, which were won by Joe Biden in 2020, were flipped by moderate Republicans emphasizing crime. Unfortunately, one of those Republicans is George "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire" Santos.  Nonetheless, were it not for these upset New York congressional wins, the GOP margin in the House would be one vote.

6.  Volodymyr Zelenskyy - Not inclined to put non-Americans on this list, but I can't ignore the leadership of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who has, thus far, repelled the invasion of his country by, at least what was thought, the second strongest military in the world.  Thanks in no small part due to the military aid given by western democracies, for over ten months the Ukrainian military has fought the Russians to a draw.  When Ukraine initially was invaded, many thought Zelenskyy would flee his country, living his life out in exile.  Instead the former comedian and actor decided to stand with his countrymen and fight.   If only American politicians had a fraction of Zelenskyy's courage.

7.  Michigan Democrats - While Republicans were winning in places like Florida and Georgia, Democrats were winning just as impressively in Michigan.  Democrats in Michigan easily won all the statewide races and won control of the state house and senate for the first time in nearly 40 years.  

8.  January 6th Committee - From the outset, I had little faith that the January 6th Committee would have any success in shaping public opinion about the insurrection.  But somehow the Committee's presentation of evidence and its findings managed to seep into the public's consciousness.  When mid-term voters cast their ballots, they overwhelmingly rejected election denying candidates and those who supported the insurrection.  

Biggest Losers

1.  Donald Trump - I'm trying to think of anything that went right in 2022 for Trump.  He started out the year as the presumptive favorite for the Republican re-nomination.  It was even doubtful whether he'd have serious competition.  Now he faces a slew of opponents. During the year he was hit with several criminal investigations and civil lawsuits, and almost certainly 2023 will bring his indictment.  During a series of hearings, the January 6th Committee proved Trump's leading role in the insurrection.  His tax returns have finally been made public confirming, once again, that Trump is a really, really bad businessman.  In November, virtually all of the election denying candidates he endorsed lost.   Trump is rightly seen as a loser...but, to be fair, Trump has been costing Republicans elections for a long time.  It's just now some Republican leaders are waking up to that fact.

2.  Kari Lake - Her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs, for the Arizona governorship was so low profile, I thought for awhile Lake was running unopposed. But Lake managed to steal defeat from the jaws of victory by employing the not-so-brilliant strategy of alienating her base of voters.  Days before the election, Lake told McCain Republican voters she didn't want their support.  They obliged by voting for Hobbs.  Goodbye Kari Lake.

3.  Election Deniers - 2022 was an odd election.   Democrats did well in certain states while Republicans did equally as well in other states.  But there was one consistency when looking at the election results - Trump-endorsed candidates who backed the false claim that the 2020 election lost or ran well behind Republican candidates Trump didn't endorse.

4.  Pro Life Movement - The losses the pro life movement took on election day have been exaggerated in the media.  After all, Republican pro-life candidates did extremely well in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Texas.  In my home state of Indiana, Republicans actually picked up seats in the legislature despite passing a law which nearly bans abortions in the state.  On the other hand, it is clear that the pro life movement was not prepared for how to discuss the abortion issue to mainstream, general election voters.  The movement allowed the issue to be defined by the most rare and extreme cases, such as a 10 year old rape victim seeking an abortion.   If pro lifers don't moderate their message, they're going to lose the political battle over the issue.

5.  Stacey Abrams - While Abrams is good at putting together a political organization, as a candidate she has never been impressive.  Abrams' political strategy was to emphasize her liberal positions to maximize progressive turnout.  By contrast, Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock instead worked to appear and sound like a moderate.  Warnock easily won while Abrams badly lost.  

6.  Beto O'Rourke - Like Abrams, O'Rourke was delusional for running in this cycle.  Both may be finished as political candidates.

7.  Kevin McCarthy - McCarthy made a conscious decisions to sell out his honor and integrity in a bid to be elected Speaker.  Now that bid looks hopeless.  While the vote for Speaker is taking place in 2023, the roots of McCarthy's failure is based firmly in 2022.