I tweeted out a bit of my distant experience to clarify some of the whole Trump madness and realized I remembered a heap from my brief time having TS but not SCI clearance. Let me explain and maybe along the way, it will become even more obvious how egregious Trump's behavior has been regarding classified materials.
First, a caveat, yes, too much material is classified at too high a level. This makes it hard for various actors to coordinate when they can't talk clearly/openly about stuff. Tis why we now have fusion cells that include folks from multiple agencies. But it does make it hard to communicate with the public about stuff that is not super secrety.
Second, my experience is exactly 20 years old as I was finishing up my Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship in the Pentagon as a desk officer on the Bosnia desk. So, maybe stuff has changed, but, not really, as these processes are pretty static.
Ok, so I had a top secret clearance. I needed one for my job as I literally could not access the computer systems in the Pentagon without it. Sure, the unclassified network could be accessed, but we used that only for surfing the web and checking our email. All of our work was on the classified network. I also needed access to documents that were often classified as Secret or Top Secret in order to do my job--coordinating Joint Staff policy stuff with State, National Security Council, NATO, US military folks, etc.
How did I get this TS clearance? I was investigated, private contractors (I am guessing) looked into my criminal records, tax stuff, interviewed people who knew me, etc. I have been on the other end of this, getting calls asking to give me evaluation on the reliability of applicants for governments (in the old days in the US, in Canada the past 20 years).
I did not get an SCI clearance--Secure Compartmentalized Information. I was not vetted so thoroughly that I could be trusted with such info. Nor did I need it to do my job because I had a teammate on the Bosnia desk who did. So, whenever Special Operations stuff or signals (National Security Agency work) came up, I got kicked out of the meeting.
With my clearance, I was given a specific kind of badge. It allowed me access to the hallways of the Pentagon unescorted and with the ability escort those without such a badge. It did not allow me to be in the National Military Command Center, a building within the building, unescorted. I went in there a few times--for briefings/meetings, but none that stick out in my memory.
Our entire office was a SCIF--sensitive compartmented information facility. It meant we could leave secret stuff laying around (although I think we had to put away TS stuff, but I don't remember). Our door had two locks--one for all the time and one for overnight or when folks evacuated (it was quite relevant for my 9/11 story).
A key irony is that I only used the secure telephone system a couple of times (we did almost all of our work by email with word/excel/power point attachments) and meetings. Once was calling the US general who was the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of the NATO Stabilization Force [SFOR] in Bosnia. Why is this ironic? That dude happened to be Brigadier General David Petraeus, who went on to violate rules about intel, as he brought home classified documents and shared them with his graduate student/girlfriend. Ooops. He was caught and got slapped on the wrist.
The key is this: other than General Dave and President Donnie, people took this stuff super seriously. We went back into a burning Pentagon on 9/11 because my team was carrying classified documents, and we did not want to do the paperwork that would be necessary to explain why we took the docs home. And, no, I didn't hear what the folks said at the meetings I was ejected from--I didn't learn what the NSA had found or what the SOF dudes were doing in Bosnia. I could make reasoned guesses, but I didn't have info. Nor did I share any of the classified info I received in my year outside of the building.
Sure, thanks to the glossy morning pamphlet of worldwide intel stuff, I got to learn bits and pieces about Iran's nuclear program and North Korea's (those are the bits and pieces I remember now). I found it fascinating, so I was at first astonished that Trump was bored by the daily intel briefs. But then he is the most incurious person ever. Which raises questions why he kept holding onto classified docs...
All I know is that the rules are clear, they are obeyed damn near most of the time, that the folks in the US national security business take it seriously, and that it really is not that hard to follow the rules. Plus there are all the docs I signed that said I could go to jail if I broke them. So, yeah, I am hoping Trump goes to jail for this. No one should be above the law, and no, Presidents can't waive a golf club to declassify stuff, and certainly, ex-Presidents cannot.
Oh and this thread is mighty useful for the basics: https://twitter.com/MarkHertling/status/1557911395836071940