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There are a lot of people who shouldn't need security clearances

The overabundance of classified material means that there's a corresponding need for people like Jack Teixeira to sift through it.

Federal agents on Thursday arrested 21-year-old Jack Teixeira for allegedly distributing classified information that eventually made its way into the press. Unlike other leakers or whistleblowers, according to what we know so far, it doesn’t appear that Teixeira shared secrets about Ukraine’s military or America's spying on its allies to make any sort of political point, or even to make a few dollars on the side. He apparently did it to look cool for his internet friends, who were “united by their mutual love of guns, military gear and God,” as The Washington Post put it.

According to the criminal complaint against him, Teixeira had access to classified documents thanks to his role in the Air National Guard, which required him to obtain a "top secret" security clearance. That such a young person was granted access to classified networks has sparked a debate in Washington. The real issue, though, isn’t his youth — it’s that so many people are needed to sift through the mountain of information that the U.S. classifies every year.

It’s no secret that there’s simply too much material that’s unnecessarily classified on a regular basis.

Since it became known that Teixeira is a white, Christian male, we’ve seen the likes of Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to leap to his defense. The latter’s move prompted former Rep. Liz Cheney to call for Greene to be stripped of her own security clearance. Greene “cannot be trusted with America’s national security information,” Cheney declared. But while Cheney has a point, there are a lot of people in the government who need to lose their clearances — not because they’re untrustworthy but because it shouldn’t be necessary for them to have one.

It’s no secret that there’s simply too much material that’s unnecessarily classified on a regular basis. Some classified materials contain major state secrets, yes, but there’s also plenty of innocuous information that would be at home on the CIA World Factbook if not for the network it was shared on. Even current and former heads of America’s spy agencies have acknowledged that too much stuff is labeled “confidential,” “secret,” or “top secret,” restricting access to anyone outside the loop.

In the case of the materials that Teixeira allegedly shared, they appear to have been a mix of big newsworthy items of interest and matters of such mundane granularity that there’s no real benefit to exposing them. But under the classification system, all of those things are jumbled together. As Barack Obama admitted while president, even things that you could probably find on Google are labeled classified because it’s being presented as part of a White House briefing.

The result is that the government classifies more than 50 million documents a year, which then necessitates that there needs to be people who can handle all of that unnecessary classification. Enter the Teixeiras of the world. According to a report to Congress by the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, as of October 2019 there were more than 1.2 million individuals who had access to information classified as “top secret.” In fiscal year 2019, the federal government ran initial clearance and “periodic reinvestigation” clearances for more than 347,000 people, an increase of 44% over the previous year.

In 2021, Teixeira was granted one of those “top secret” clearances, which requires an extensive background check. But his behavior online doesn’t exactly give credence to the system that approved him. The Discord chat server that he hosted was one where gamers gathered during the pandemic and included members who on other platforms “traded racist and antisemitic epithets and appeared in other groups featuring Nazi iconography,” according to The New York Times.

I’m not making the case that there needs to be an extra layer of surveillance of these chatrooms. I am saying that the need to have an abundance of low-ranking people that can access these documents on behalf of their superiors probably contributes to more clearances being handed out than if the system was more discerning. With less junk to sift through, there’d be fewer people who could then have access to the actually important things tucked into the classified networks.