Past US leaders asked to check for classified documents

National Archives makes rare request for return of sensitive files by former presidents and vice presidents

The US National Archives building in Washington, DC. AP
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The US National Archives has asked former presidents and vice presidents to check if they inadvertently still have classified documents, it was reported on Thursday.

President Joe Biden, former president Donald Trump and former vice president Mike Pence all held highly sensitive documents in their homes and offices for longer than allowed.

A letter requesting classified documents and presidential records was sent to representatives for former presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush, Bill Clinton, George H W Bush and Ronald Reagan, and former vice presidents Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Dan Quayle, CNN and AP reported.

The letter was also sent to representatives of Mr Biden, Mr Trump and Mr Pence.

The revelations expose a gap in the security of government secrets that could endanger relations and lives globally.

“Countries should be alarmed that we are failing to properly safeguard national secrets,” former US attorney Barbara McQuade told The National.

Inadvertently holding classified documents is more common than has been known, AP reported this week.

Former officials over the decades have returned sensitive files back to the US government after they left office.

"We should expect our leaders to treat national secrets with care," Ms McQuade said.

President Jimmy Carter handed over classified documents he found in the past, AP reported

He is exempt from the National Archives request because the Presidential Records Act, which he passed as president, came into effect after he left office.

“Our government needs to do a better job of controlling access to classified documents,” Ms McQuade said.

“A chain of custody should be maintained, and all documents returned or destroyed when the reader is done reading them.”

Updated: January 26, 2023, 7:53 PM