Back in 2015, former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni was sentenced to prison for trying to sell classified nuclear weapon information to a man he believed to be a Venezuelan intelligence agent.
The federal judge said the 5½-year sentence allowed under a plea agreement was very favorable to Mascheroni, who could have faced decades in prison. His wife, Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, also a former LANL employee, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison after pleading guilty to various charges under the federal Atomic Energy Act.
Earlier in 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy fined LANL $3.3 million for a security scandal involving lab subcontractor employee Jessica Quintana, who sneaked hundreds of classified documents out of the lab so she could work at home. Quintana was eventually sentenced to two years’ probation.
Santa Fe political scientist James Doyle, who had been working for LANL for 17 years, was fired from the lab in 2014 for an article he wrote for a nonprofit website. The article in support of abolishing nuclear weapons contained sensitive information.
The unauthorized possession of classified documents has rightfully been a big deal in New Mexico, where nuclear weapons have been designed under heavy secrecy for decades. It’s very disturbing that the protection of classified information does not apparently carry the same weight in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced last week that improperly stored classified documents had been discovered in the home and garage of the Wilmington, Del., residence of President Joe Biden. The documents dated to Biden’s time as vice president, which was more than six years ago.
The DOJ announcement came days after news broke that classified documents had initially been found Nov. 2 in a locked closet at Biden’s private office in Washington, D.C. Even more classified documents have emerged since early November. A White House lawyer announced Saturday that five more pages had been found at Biden’s home.
Attorney General Garland last week appointed a special counsel to take charge of the DOJ’s investigation, calling the events “extraordinary circumstances.”
Extraordinary? Apparently not.
In November, Garland appointed a special counsel in a pair of cases involving former President Donald Trump, including Trump’s handling of classified documents. FBI agents seized 184 classified documents, including 25 marked “Top Secret,” during an Aug. 8 raid of Trump’s Palm Beach, Fla.-home.
The FBI also found 42 empty folders at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home marked “Return to Staff Secretary/Miliary (sic) Aide.”
The Presidential Records Act requires that all presidential and vice-presidential documents be turned over to the National Archives at the end of an administration. Other rules govern the storage of classified documents.
So, how is it that classified and Top Secret documents have been found in recent months at the homes of two presidents? If they had been federal employees, such as Pedro and Marjorie Mascheroni, they certainly would have been fired and probably would have been prosecuted.
Yes, intelligence agencies have been over-classifying documents in recent years and, once classified, some documents never see the light of day, even long after their secrecy is no longer necessary. But the garage of one president and storage room of another are hardly secure locations for the nation’s secrets.
What else are investigators going to find at the libraries, homes or offices of Biden, Trump, or other presidents and vice presidents? It appears our top elected leaders have been operating under the honor system. Will Americans tune into “Storage Wars” one day and hear about highly classified documents somehow finding their way to a vacated storage unit in Altoona or Kalamazoo?
With three national labs, New Mexico is a state that’s very conscious of national secrets. We know better. Why don’t our presidents?
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.