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Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Special Access Programs

According to the indictment against Trump, eight of the TOP SECRET documents may have had information about or derived from so-called Special Access Programs (SAPs). The sensitivity of these documents was so great that prosecutors were obliged to redact even the codewords on the documents. The implication is that even publicly acknowledging the codenames of these projects, without discussing their operations at all, was deemed a great security risk.


SAPs have three protection levels—acknowledged, unacknowledged, and waived. Acknowledged SAPs are ones whose existence is openly recognized and whose purpose may be identified publicly. Details of acknowledged SAPs remain classified and access protected by designated codewords. Presidential travel activities are often cited as examples—everyone knows the president travels, and often it’s public long in advance that the president will be in a certain place at a certain time: a U.N. meeting, a party convention, a State of the Union address, etc. What’s secret are the details of how the president will get to and from the events and how the Secret Service will protect him. Funding for acknowledged SAPs is generally unclassified.

Unacknowledged SAPs are those whose existence and purpose require greater protection. All information is classified, and funding is classified, unacknowledged, and not directly linked to the program. Under extremely limited circumstances, the normal reporting requirements of an unacknowledged SAP can be “waived” by the Secretary of Defense. Congressional oversight in those cases would be limited to oral notifications to the chair, ranking members, and staff directors of the respective appropriations and armed services committees.

To recap, of the 31 documents former President Trump is being charged with inappropriately storing at his resort hotel, eight may have contained information about or derived from our government’s most sensitive activities. In the wrong hands, the exposure of that information could risk the lives of U.S. and allied military and intelligence personnel, and foreign intelligence sources and their families—not to mention American civilians.