Wednesday, February 1, 2023

#179 Secret Documents

#179 – Wednesday, 1 February 2023


Posted by Denny Hatch





Two Old Presidents and a National Archivist


 Okay, you ask, why in the world is this blog — nominally devoted to direct marketing headlines, copy, junk mail, space advertising, design and the mechanics of e-commerce — concerned with a gawdawful failure of the U.S. Government?

Quite simply the media — print, TV and e-commerce — are ecstatic about having a new government piñata to flog unto death—the blizzard of highly sensitive Secret and Top-Secret documents turning up in odd places — e.g., Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Florida resort and President Biden's old Veep's office in Washington DC. Or not turning up at all.


The main business of today’s media is a sick cycle of riling up audiences with angst and anger in order to generate huge readership and high ratings that translate into ads, obscene profits and deliriously happy shareholders.


We are all direct marketers—a small cadre of conceptual thinkers, business builders and problem solvers. Clients and customers can come to us, say, with an idea for a product or service and we are paid to do a deep dive into our life experiences that can make a new business come alive... and make it profitable. Good for the client. Good for customers. Good for the economy. When a prospect calls, our standard question is: “How can I help?”


With that in mind I started thinking about helping a confused and inept federal government get out of the self-made mess that it finds itself in. 


Let's Start with the Packaging—the Dismal Teaser Copy  






This is ho-hum legalese copy (in all caps that are known to be difficult to read). Nor does it contain any of the 7 key copy drivers—the emotional hot buttons that make people act.


Fear – Greed – Guilt – Anger –
Exclusivity – Salvation – Flattery


My immediate thinking: Let’s make this sucker memorable. Let’s add some Fear and scare the bejesus of anyone who stumbles across this thing.


The addition of a startling $1000-a-day penalty for the late return of a single document is unheard of. It is a first — only a first — step toward solving this challenge. It fits the textbook example of my six-word definition of Direct Marketing:


“Attract immediate attention and change behavior.” 


The Care and Handling of America’s  Secrets

The two main Federal Government entities creating Secret and Top-Secret documents are the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

For decades we gullible Americans have taken for gra
nted the guaranteed safe and secure oversight of the millions of national and international secrets amassed by our government, our scientists, our allies and our enemies. 

This vast cache of information — the Fort Knox of America’s intellectual, diplomatic, scientific and wartime history and secrets therein — is housed in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) with headquarters in Washington, D.C. and 40 branches nationwide.


Only insiders with ironclad security and confidential credentials are cleared to handle these national treasures. 


Oops! Surprise! Americans and Our
Foreign Allies May Be in Grave Danger!

FBI Found More Than 11,000 Government Records at Trump's Florida Home

WASHINGTON — They risk imprisonment or death stealing the secrets of their own governments. Their identities are among the most closely protected information inside American intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Losing even one of them can set back American foreign intelligence operations for years.
     Clandestine human sources are the lifeblood of any espionage service. This helps explain the grave concern within American agencies that information from undercover sources was included in some of the classified documents recently removed from Mar-a-Lago, the Florida home of former President Donald J. Trump — raising the prospect that the sources could be identified if the documents got into the wrong hands.
—Julian E. Barnes, Mark Mazzetti with Adam Goldman, The New York Times,  26 August 2022


Biden’s legal team found another batch of classified documents in search of second location
President Joe Biden’s legal team found another batch of classified government records following the initial discovery of classified documents at his former think tank office in Washington this past fall, people briefed on the matter told CNN on Wednesday.

Phil MattinglyEvan PerezMaegan VazquezKevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins, CNN, Updated 8:28 PM EST, Wed January 11, 2023


Former VP Mike Pence says he takes 'full responsibility' for classified documents found at his Indiana residence.
"Mistakes were made. And I take full responsibility," he said during remarks while in Florida.
—John L. Dorman, BUSINESS INSIDER, January 28, 2023


The Immediate Effects of a $1000-a-day Late Fee
1. It creates fear. This exorbitantly high penalty says to all who handle secret documents that these are very precious, valuable commodities. Carelessness will not be tolerated. Screw up and it's financial ruin.


2. Let's say that one thousand of the of the 11,000 documents discovered at the Mar-A-Lago Club were classified Secret or Top-Secret. Fines of $1000-per-day-per document would total a whopping $1 million dollars a day. In the immortal words of Illinois Republican Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen (1896-1968), "Pretty soon you're talking real money."


3. Quite simply with the specter of these out-of-sight and ruinous penalties, no lowly secretaries, pages, gofers or goof-offs in their right minds would casually sign out Top-Secret documents at the behest of the boss and remove them from NARA. Only knowledgeable, caring oh-so-careful officials—possibly overseen by armed guards—would dare handle them.


Three Central Careless Perps Who Should Know Better

(Left) Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., 46th President of the United States. (Middle)  Debra Steidel Wall, Acting Archivist of the United States. (Right) Donald John Trump, 45th President of the United States.

Note to All Federal Archivists

The model program for keeping precise track of documents is elementary. The true experts are found in the nation’s 90,400 elementary school Libraries.

The mid-1940s were twenty years prior to computers, A.I. and data analysis. The part-time librarian in my little Lawrence Country Day Elementary School on Long Island knew the name of every kid who borrowed what book(s), the return date and immediately sent a notice when overdue.


How did this simple system work? For starters, inside the front or back cover of every book was a series of “DATE DUE” stamps. If you returned a book late—or lost a book—you were fined. Cash money. Oh, maybe 10¢ a day or $1 dollar a month for a late return. Plus the full replacement cost of a lost book. Across town in the Catholic Elementary School if you lost a book Sister Mary Rose McGeady rapped your knuckles with a ruler as well as punishing you financially.

This is not Rocket Science, Schmendricks!

It's not even drifting-Chinese-surveillance-balloon-in-space science, for God's sake!

From the Gospel According to Charles Schulz


The Only Safe Venues for Handling These
Pesky SECRET and TOP-SECRET Documents



“SCI” is short for “Sensitive Compartmented Information.” These documents should never go home in a borrower’s jacket pocket, purse or briefcase. Rather they are mandated to be examined in a SCIF – Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.


According to the U.S. Department of Defense, a SCIF is any secure place, permanent or temporary, in which classified material “may be stored, used, discussed and/or electronically processed.”

Above: White House SCIF where President Trump and Steve Bannon preside over a meeting. Bottom left is a modular SCIF being used by President Obama and Valerie Jarrett. Bottom right is a temporary tent SCIF set up in Brazil being used by Obama and his team.

The many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of these sanitary and isolating SCIFs are available on the ground as prefab buildings, dedicated rooms in buildings, in aircraft or on ships at sea. Here is where secret documents can be studied, and face-to-face conferences and presentations can be held. Confidential Zoom meetings can take place (so long as all participants are all in SCIF venues). At session's end all records and results are to be catalogued and deposited back into the NARA mother lode. 

Takeaways to Consider:
Asking Your Help!

Classified documents fiasco leaves lawmakers shaking heads: What happened?

The discovery of classified documents at the homes of three top elected U.S. officials has left many lawmakers and former government workers shaking their heads and wondering how the country has ended up in this situation...
     The findings have lawmakers and aides who have dealt with classified documents puzzled over how there could be a breakdown in process in consecutive administrations, and it has triggered discussion over what reforms could prevent such mistakes from happening in the future. It has also left some officials worried that it will further erode trust in government institutions...
     “I think it is an embarrassment because at a minimum it’s bad management,” said Daniella Ballou-Aares, who served as a senior adviser in the State Department during the Obama administration and now runs the Leadership Now Project...
     “Clearly there are loopholes you can drive a Mack truck through.” —Sen. John Thune (R-SD)...
—Brett Samuels and Al Weaver, THE HILL
- 01/29/23 6:00 AM ET

The above is an excerpt from the 1045-word story. Here’s the link. Read it and weep.


• What can we do to help the U.S. Government turn this lemon into lemonade? 


• We are all direct marketers—conceptual thinkers. Clients come to us with an idea for a product or service and we are paid to do a deep dive into our life experiences and make this business come alive... and make it profitable.

• Readers of this blog are all among the savviest professionals in the business community. I ask you to ignore the hand-wringing weenies, whiners and flame throwers in Washington, in the media (and in Putin's and Jim Jordan's hip pockets) to help Uncle Sam come up with ideas for a solution to this mess.

• To repeat: How can we help make this lemon into lemonade?

• Thank you.

• I'm sure our Uncle Sam will thank you.

• Cheers.


 Word count: 1683


292pp     6" x 9"
Hardcover:     $39.95
Paperback:     $29.95
ebook/Kindle: $19.95


Barnes & Noble


At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.


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  1. Denny - enjoyed your blog. Thank you. I can only wonder how many congresspersons and senators have sensitive classified documents in their homes, their offices, their winter-homes, and their summer-homes? I'm especially wondering about the politicians who have made public statements about this matter - on either side of the fence. Look at me in my glass house!

    1. Thanks Will. This entire situation is ghastly. A horror. I appreciate your appreciation.

  2. To:Denny Hatch
    Fri, Feb 3 at 4:42 PM
    Mr. Hatch,
    Thank you for your email. I will be sure to share it with the GAO teams that examine issues regarding classified documents.

    Chuck Young
    Managing Director, Public Affairs
    GAO (US Government Accountability Office)

    1. Dear Chuck Young,
      Many thanks for your positive response. Throughout the process of writing this piece I kept wondering if I were nuts. Vindication!
      Kindly send me a list of US government entities — and names of officials who should see this work—and I will email them.
      Thank you, thank you again!

  3. Well, I find it heartening that Congress people take work home. That sure changes my opinion of them. Who knew? While I find the $1,000 per day penalty attractive, we would have to create another government department to collect the fines. Can you imagine how the Donald would avoid exposure?

    1. Jeffrey,
      Thanks for taking the time to write and for your thinking on this.
      If this $1000/day fine were in place, I honestly believe everybody involve would he a helluva lot more careful.
      Regarding “another gov’t department collect the fines,” the answer is an entire dept. not needed.
      My vision: promote a savvy elementary school librarian to replace the obviously incompetent “Acting Archivist of the United States.” The new and improved archivist will reform the system so the feds will be able to precisely identify every man, woman and child who is screwing around with the system and say, “NOT ON YOUR TINTYPE!” when some badass wants to steal a SECRET or TOP-SECRET document. Do keep in touch!