Why Were Trump’s Stolen Documents a Secret from the American People in the First Place?

Photograph Source: United States Department of Justice – Public Domain

The stolen and lied-about documents that Trump stands indicted for trying to hide from federal investigators, such as information about the American nuclear weapons stockpile, its assessment of other nuclear nations’ nuclear arsenals and vulnerabilities, plans to attack Iran, and embarrassing assessments of foreign leaders, have pundits and politicians in an appropriate high dudgeon.

But no major media pundits or political leaders are asking the big question:  Why are so many of the documents Trump has been trying to keep from FBI investigators and the National Archive being kept secret from the American people in a country that at least claims to be the world’s model democracy?  

We Americans, or at least 60-70 percent of us in presidential election years when all the members of the House, a third of the Senate and control of the White House are up for grabs, dutifully go to voting locations or fill out mail ballots. But unless we are died-in-the-wool partisans, we are forced to make our decisions based upon minor or ancillary things like personality of the candidates, their positions on certain issues we personally may care about, or hunches about how honest a candidate seems to be. But we don’t really know or get to know what our country is doing or planning to do with its outsized military, its obscenely huge nuclear force its new Space Force, or even its long-term foreign policy goals. 

These are kept secret. We don’t even get to know what the government spends on what it calls “intelligence.” However, there are 18 federal intelligence agencies, or agencies that include in themselves some intelligence unit, like for example the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And we don’t get to know the budgets for any of them, though many of them, like the National Security Agency, the FBI, Homeland Security and even the Defense Intelligence Agency, spy on us!

According to a January 27, 2023 article in the New York Times the federal government classifies 50 million new documents each year, Most of these are composed of many pages. And most of them get filed away and unless you know how to ask for them, simply vanish into storage. I tried to find the file on Edward N. Hall, inventor of the Minuteman solid-fuel ICBM and indeed the whole concept of having hundreds of ready-to-launch launch, silo-based ballistic missiles who was the older brother of Ted Hall, a known Los Alamos physicist/Soviet spy (about whom I am publishing a book — Spy for No Country — this fall). When I filed a Freedom of Information request with the FBI for his file, I was initially told none existed. When I appealed and pointed out that the file I had from them on his brother included a number of agent reports showing that the Bureau was intensely investigating Ed in 1950-51 as they were building a case against his younger brother, they relented and sent me a 103-page dossier on Ed Hall, but censored his case’s file number, which would make it hard for someone else to locate it. 

Why keep that secret? Ed died in 2006 at age 91 and was cleared of suspicion that he might be a spy by investigators from the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigation in August 1951, Why, indeed, is the file on his younger brother Ted, who died in 1999, still as heavily censored as it was in 2000, when his spying occurred in the mid-1940s and the FBI gave up on trying to prosecute him in 1966? The justification given for most of the censored pages or portions of pages in his file are mostly “privacy,”  “protecting agents’ or sources identities,” or “national security.”  But all the agents involved in his case, all the sources the FBI had for information on him, and any national security issues, are at least 57 years old and mostly over 70 years old! When I filed a new request to have his file reviewed removing unnecessary censorship, it was denied.

And that’s just me and my one search for records on two long-dead individuals. 

This is an atrocity. So is the fact that many of the things kept secret, such as the Pentagon’s accounting of how many non-combatant civilians are being killed in it’s endless wars, interventions and “special ops” actions and its global drone war on “terror,” re only being kept secret from the American people. The people who’s relatives are being slaughtered in these criminal US activities know. So do people in other nations of the world, whose media don’t hide those numbers which are gathered by various NGOs.

Sure, it’s an outrage that Trump would have lied that he had stolen top-secret government files on such things as vulnerability of the US nuclear program, but whether or not that slimy eel manages to slither out of this latest criminal case, it should make Americans of whatever political stripe start demanding an end to all the government secrecy. 

No one can with a straight face call the US a democracy when all the important information about what this country’s national government is doing is being hidden away under classified, secret, top-secret and other even more restrictive stamps that make it impossible for us to see them, sometimes as in my case, even for decades or generations. 

The Brennan Center for Justice in an article published in 2016, quoted a number of government officials who claimed that “50 to 90 percent”  of  Let’s start with a demand that that higher number of 90% reduce federal government secrecy and move on from there for more transparency. 

CounterPunch contributor DAVE LINDORFF is a producer along with MARK MITTEN on a forthcoming feature-length documentary film on the life of Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall. A Participant Film, “A Compassionate Spy” is directed by STEVE JAMES and will be released in theaters this coming summer. Lindorff has finished a book on Ted Hall titled “A Spy for No Country,” to be published this Fall by Prometheus Press.