Biden Downplays Leak Significance

You're not helping, Mr. President.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on lowering healthcare costs, Tuesday, September 27, 2022, in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

NYT(“Biden says the leak did not compromise intelligence ‘of great consequence.’”):

President Biden said on Thursday that the United States was “getting close” to finding answers about the leak of classified Pentagon documents on the war in Ukraine and other sensitive U.S. intelligence, but he said he was “not concerned” about the disclosures.

Speaking before disclosure of the identity of the leader of the small online chat group where a trove of classified U.S. intelligence documents leaked over the last few months, Mr. Biden told reporters in Dublin that “there’s a full-blown investigation going on, as you know, with the intelligence community and the Justice Department.”

Asked for an update on the investigation, Mr. Biden said, “I’m concerned that it happened but there is nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of great consequence.”

While I get that the President doesn’t want to distract from his state visit to Ireland and wants to mitigate the diplomatic harm these leaks have caused, his language here is harmful.

Most of the documents I’ve seen have TS/SCI markings, meaning they are classified Top Secret and further limited to those cleared to access Sensitive Compartmented Information. Under the law, information may only be classified Top Secret if ” its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”

So, either the President is saying:

  • We really shouldn’t take TS markings seriously because it’s no big deal;
  • These materials should never have been marked TS to begin with; or
  • These materials were TS when marked but have since been declassified

Since there has been zero indication of the last of these, the President’s comments would seem to undermine the classification system itself.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    If everything is important then nothing is. If everything is classified then nothing is. As an example (real case), once you deem things like “The Washington Post has a story on X this morning. Should we respond?”, as classified, then it makes a farce of the system.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Eh, typical Joe Biden framing. Give him all the options to respond and convey the message he wants and he’ll choose the one that muddies the water.

    The press is being responsible in asking the question, but in truth, this incident and the related issues shouldn’t be taking up a prez’s time or attention. This is why you have staff and cabinet secretaries.

  3. Tony W says:

    @Sleeping Dog: And muddying the water is a pretty good move on his part, in my view.

    Once the stuff is out there – it is potentially compromised – edited, altered, etc. So anything that calls into question specifics within the released documents is good because the bad guys have to wonder if anything or everything is true or not.

    In other words, it lowers the value of the leaked information.

  4. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan: To be clear, I’m not saying the the documents in this case weren’t sensitive, in fact, they appear to have been very sensitive. Just that I don’t think you can trust the classification system to indicate that.

  5. wr says:

    I don’t understand this OP at all. Of course Biden is going to downplay the importance of the leak — what’s he going to say? “Oh, my God, these documents that are now freely available around the world are the most important pieces of information possible and now we’re doomed doomed doomed!”

    Granted, that’s how Trump would have responded — and probably did. But what possible good would that do?

    And how do you get from the president putting out a public message saying “everything’s okay, folks, it’s dealt with” to “the entire classification system is screwed up”?

    Biden made a political statement in order to calm the waters. The justice department is on top of the leaker and I can only assume the state department and the Pentagon are dealing with international fallout. I honestly can’t see how you can find fault with what Biden has said.

  6. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    This opinion makes zero sense to me.
    Of course Biden is going to downplay the seriousness of this.
    While the perp is arrested in a matter of days.
    Do you really expect him to run around with his hair on fire?

  7. CSK says:

    No, Trump would have peddled the docs or used them for extortion or blackmail purposes.

  8. JohnSF says:

    I’m exceedingly very unhappy about these leaks.
    I am also quite sure President Biden is playing this right.
    And, you might note, so is every other country mentioned, bar Russia:
    South Korea: “Who? Us?”
    UK: “Special Forces? Nah, mate, give over.”
    etc etc
    Even the Ukrainians, who are those with most to complain about (and are probably hopping mad in private) are keeping poker-faced.

  9. Kathy says:


    So, you don’t think he should be running around DC pulling his hair and yelling “WE’RE DOOOOOOOMED!”?

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m with everyone upstream in comments – Biden has played this just right. ‘Tis but a scratch, a flesh wound.’

    This poor dumb kid, I feel sorry for him. Look at his face! He’s going to Leavenworth? Or some Supermax? I was a couple years older and way tougher and I was scared of regular old state prison. And at least I was going in for a crime that would have afforded me a certain status. Bambi the Spy? That is not how you want to be introduced in prison.

  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    I agree that Biden played it well.

    I also wonder about time sensitivity. If that stuff had been leaked a year ago, it would be a lot worse. Some information ages quickly, and some doesn’t.

  12. just nutha says:

    @wr: I contextualized it as though the author voted for Biden, Biden does not represent his first choice, and he is waiting breathlessly for the Republicans/conservative movement at large to “return to their/its senses” so that he will have worthy candidates to vote for in future elections.

    And I wish him the best on that point but urge him not to hold his breath while waiting.

  13. JohnMc says:

    The community of ‘open source intelligence analysts’ that geolocates and authenticates or not troop movements and battle damage claims is saying that they were more correct than the official intelligence was. There’s some discussion that these leaks are a US/UKR psyops because it discloses the extent of RUS losses.

  14. Lounsbury says:

    @JohnSF: ; @Michael Reynolds: Indeed, as public comment I find the idea of critiquing Biden’s public stance rather strange, not being a public drama llama about this is rather sensible. Rather like a deal nego, one shouldn’t be so daft as to hand other parties an obvious rhetorical leverage.

  15. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    I’m far more troubled by the likes of MTG and the fish sticks heir opening supporting this kid.

  16. Thomm says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl: Remember, Greene apparently has no power…other than he legions of adoring fans, a media megaphone, and nationwide name recognition…but no power within the GOP house.

  17. Thomm says:

    Oh…and sits on a powerful committee relating to things like this…but no power…just a back bencher

  18. anjin-san says:


    Yeah, I was just thinking that an assurance that Green is a fringe element in the GOP in in our future.

  19. JohnSF says:

    My standard recommendation in an emergency:
    “When in danger, or in doubt
    Run in circles, scream, and shout.”


  20. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Reality Winner did 5 years for a single page.
    This poor kid. It looks like he did it for attention. Boy has he gotten it.

  21. DK says:

    “I’m concerned that it happened but there is nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of great consequence.”

    Seems balanced and non-controversial to me. I think only extremely-online political junkies + Biden’s enemies will complain.

  22. Thomm says:

    @anjin-san: yeah. I read that whole exchange on first waking up that day feeling kind of down and it gave me a much needed laugh.

  23. Kathy says:


    Cartoon characters do it all the time.

    I don’t think it works out too well for them.

  24. Ken_L says:

    I have read in various places that the documents in question would have been available online to tens of thousands or even a million Americans who have the required security clearances. Documents with such a wide distribution are not “secret” in any meaningful sense; it’s almost guaranteed that at any given moment, one or more people with access will be sharing the information out of carelessness or to impress friends or for some other more sinister reason.

    It became obvious during the investigation into Hillary’s email server that massive over-classification of information in America is a joke, serving mainly as a tool to protect officials from FOIA laws and punish public servants who had the temerity to “leak” to the hated media. If the Pentagon sincerely believes that a 21 year-old E3 had access to information that endangered national security, it will make urgent comprehensive overhauls of the way such documents are distributed in future. It won’t, I suspect, because little more has been leaked than information that anyone could have obtained – and that interested parties do obtain – from informed research into publicly available documents.

  25. Tony W says:

    @Ken_L: Yeah, spies often rationalize their bad behavior this way.

    The argument generally doesn’t hold up well in court, but it’s still probably a good story for the prison yard.

  26. Argon says:

    @CSK: The joke is that Tr*mp would’ve declassified the documents with his brain.