When I was a young man in my middle 20s I had a top secret security clearance. One day, as a necessary enhancement to some new work I was given, my clearance was improved to a special Department of Energy category known as a “CNWDI,” pronounced like “sinwiddy,” for “Critical Nuclear Weapons Design Information.”
My work was routine and nontechnical and involved delivering a thick, sealed package of priority nuclear secrets by plane from San Diego to Albuquerque. I was not permitted to know what the documents said, and probably wouldn’t have understood them even if I did.
I found this all very amusing and said so, with what I imagined to be sophisticated and world-weary ennui. I was quickly disabused of my conceit by my usually relaxed and irreverent boss. He told me that those documents contained secrets upon which people’s lives depended. They were real people, not theoretical people, people with mothers and wives and kids.
I was to treat my clearance with all due solemnity, he said, as if my very own mother’s life depended on it. Because, I could rest assured, that somewhere someone’s mother’s or father’s or son’s or daughter’s life really would depend on it some day.
That shook me up and woke me up. I never underestimated the human value of intelligence again. I never scoffed at the awesome responsibility with which I was entrusted, however briefly. Those of us given charge over America’s secrets formed a human chain around this thing called national security, and at the centre of that chain were other human beings who hoped we wouldn’t screw it up. So we didn’t. We took our responsibility seriously.
I never forgot that lesson. And because I learned it thoroughly and intuitively it was immediately obvious to me why no one, not even a former president of the United States, could declassify any document with his or her mind. Declassification is by necessity a process that needs to be as slow and meticulous as defusing a ticking time bomb.
With every declassification there are steps that must be taken to ensure that no one is accidentally harmed, no cover is blown, no troop movements betrayed, no balance of power-shifting technological secrets exposed. Again, secret classifications aren’t just theoretical, and the act of declassifying them should never be perfunctory. Sometimes it’s determined they shouldn’t be declassified at all. Human lives are at stake — every step of the way.
No one understands this less well than Donald John Trump. It was nevertheless his sacred duty to understand it, but nothing is sacred to Trump.
So when in April of 2021, as the New York Times reports, Trump divulged the locations and strengths of America’s nuclear submarines to some rando at a party at Mar-a-Largo, he didn’t just betray theoretical secrets, he betrayed mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. He put real lives in real peril. He imperilled the world. Why? So he could look cool and important, as if once being president of the United States wasn’t cool and important enough.
The rando to whom Trump spilled those particular nuclear beans was Australian billionaire Anthony Pratt. Pratt then proceeded to tell at least 45 other people — including six journalists, 11 employees at his company, 10 Australian officials and three former Australian prime ministers. Then one day he was approached by special counsel Jack Smith’s team. And he told them, too.
Divulging this highly sensitive information to a foreign national is called espionage, and that makes Donald Trump a foreign operative. In other words, a dirty, filthy little spy. It doesn’t matter that the 45 people in the immediate chain of custody of that intelligence are members of a friendly government. None of them should have known.
That so many people knew these vital secrets put Americans in grave danger. You can bet that sooner or later someone dangerous found out, someone Russian or Chinese or North Korean or Iranian. It’s what happens when forty five strangers know a vital secret. And it was a stupid, stupid, stupid thing for Trump to do, and he should be immediately put in prison for it while awaiting trial.
Donald Trump is dangerous. Donald Trump needs to be in prison right now. Donald Trump should not be allowed to roam free. He is a deadly dangerous narcissist, and as I have said many times, all the promised consequences in the world are not going to shut him up, are not going to stop him from threatening people, are not going to stop him from exposing even more of America’s vital secrets.
I’ll say it again. Donald Trump needs to go to jail. He needs to go to jail today. Today. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.