Home politics The classified documents in that DOJ photo were all found in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago office

The classified documents in that DOJ photo were all found in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago office

The classified documents in that DOJ photo were all found in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago office

Documents recovered from Donald Trump’s office at Mar-a-Lago

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Some of what the Post analysis reveals is immediately obvious. Many of the documents were can see are covered with a top sheet that is labeled either SECRET or TOP SECRET. Every single one of these documents is also marked with the letters SCI. This stands for “sensitive compartmented information,” and it means that the information is in effect beyond top secret. It’s restricted to a subset of people who are operating “within a formal access control system” established by the directors of the agencies from which the documents originated. That control system may mandate special handling, or even restrict viewing of the document to secure facilities. That’s because these documents involve “intelligence sources, methods, or analytical processes” which are themselves restricted. 

The next set of markings on these documents show why they get that SCI marking. Some are labeled with “HCS-P.” These are documents collected using human intelligence, such as a cultivated asset inside a hostile government, or an undercover operative embedded within a group. The reason the “P” marking is added is because these documents are particularly sensitive, and are to be read only by those who have “formal indoctrination” into the protocol for dealing with these sources.

[Side note: No matter what happens to Trump or anyone else at Mar-a-Lago, all of these assets, whether foreign assets or U.S. agents, are now worthless. The cavalier way in which these documents were treated means that agencies have to treat these sources as compromised. Where possible, they will be exfiltrated. Where not, they will be ignored. That’s because further contact will imperil the source, and because nothing they pass along at this point can be trusted. The cost of these losses alone is inestimable.]

Other documents are labeled with “TK,” which is short for “talent keyhole.” If that means nothing, it’s because some history and some jargon is involved. “Keyhole” is a name used for reconnaissance satellites going back more than three decades. “Talent” is another way of saying source. So when documents were originally labeled TK, it was a way of saying they had come from “Agent Keyhole”—America’s eye in the sky. Now TK means more or less any intelligence from a space-based asset, principally high resolution satellite imagery and analysis derived from similar sources.

A third set of documents is labeled with SI, which stands for the very old-school term of “signals intelligence.” It means communications data, and these days it mostly means something having to do with cell phones. Phone logs, texts, transcripts … it’s all SI.

All those documents lying on that tacky carpet appear to come from one of these sources. That means the SCI marking could come because the document involves a satellite technology that no one is supposed to know we have, or because the documents are intercepting phone traffic in some hostile (or friendly) country, or because they involve human sources who would be endangered if they were revealed.

So far, just about all of this was clear the moment the image came out. But the folks at the Post have done something that, while it isn’t quite CSI: Las Vegas-magical levels of “enhance!” is still pretty good. They’ve looked closely at some of the folders and documents in the image. Close enough to pick up a few names and dates.

Two of those documents date from Aug. 26, 2018, a day on which it’s hard to pinpoint some specific event that might have made Trump want to snatch up files. This was during the Mueller investigations, and charges had recently been leveled against Paul Manafort. It’s also a period during which it was declared that $500 million in foreign loans given to Jared Kushner was “no cause for concern” and the NRA admitted that it had collected millions from foreign sources. But nothing really stands out as “oooh, Aug 26th!” 

The third dated document is … something else. Even the level of classification on this document has been obscured. It appears to come from May 9, 2018. That’s just when Trump declared that the U.S. was going to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, and when he claimed that Iran had violated the agreement, even though all inspectors said otherwise. So maybe that folder contains evidence Trump used in making his decision. Or proof that he lied. Again.

There’s one other thing that the Post analysis of the image turned up, and it may be the most interesting. In its description of the photo, the Justice Department says it shows “certain documents and classified cover sheets recovered from a container in the ‘45 office.’” That container is likely the cardboard box showing the Time magazine cover at the right side of the image, and it means that all of this material came not out of storage, but straight from Donald Trump’s office.

But there’s one other thing about these documents that the Post article mentions in passing but then lets slip: the colors are not right. The official border on a SECRET document is supposed to be a bold red, like the partially covered document in the upper left of the image, not the kind of duller, more orange tone seen on the document centered near the bottom. The border on a TOP SECRET document is supposed to be orange, not yellow. 

Portions of DOJ image from Mar-a-Lago
Tonal difference among documents in DOJ image

Possibly these documents all came off a printer that didn’t handle those colors well. They may have even been produced under some special protocol. In any case, the difference is pronounced. Here’s a bit of the border on the document at the bottom, compared to the border of the mostly covered document in the upper left hand corner. Next to it is part of the secret stamp from one of the yellow border documents on the right, compared to the partially covered documents on the left. In both cases, the colors on the documents with the non-standard borders seems to have been shifted toward the yellow, so that red borders and red stamps become more brown. What should have been orange borders appear as yellow.

What does this mean? Very likely it means nothing. But it seems unlikely that all these documents, which surely have a range of dates and origins, would have come from the same maladjusted printer. That is … unless the documents were all printed in the last days of Trump’s residency at the White House because these were documents he selected to take with him. Which would be bad. Or because these are duplicates made on a color copier which didn’t quite capture the original tones. Which would be much worse.

Trump and his followers proved on Jan. 6 how dangerously close they came to overturning our democracy. Help cancel Republican voter suppression with the power of your pen by clicking here and signing up to volunteer with Vote Forward, writing personalized letters to targeted voters urging them to exercise their right to vote this year.

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