Wednesday, March 29, 2023

How a student got hold of confidential documents!

WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – One winter day in 1984, a briefcase full of secret government documents at a Pittsburgh school ended up in the hands of someone who definitely shouldn’t have had them.

It was 13-year-old Kristin Preble. He brought the paper to school as part of a “show and tell” assignment for his eighth grade class. His father had found them years earlier in his Cleveland hotel room and taken them home as a memento.

As a different spectacle in Washington about the mishandling of state secrets by the administrations of Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the schoolgirl incident four decades ago serves as a reminder that other governments has also allowed confidential information to leak.

The eighth grade scandal and another so-called “Debategate” scandal involved the mishandling of classified documents that Democratic President Jimmy Carter used for the October 28, 1980 debate with his then-Republican opponent Ronald Reagan in Cleveland. In another case, the Reagan campaign obtained briefing materials — some stolen — prepared by the Carter team for the debate.

In today’s docudrama, special prosecutors are appointed to investigate secret documents found at the Trump estate after the presidency, which he initially resisted handing over, as well as before Biden’s presidency documents, which he himself provided when discovered, but which he did not publicly disclose for months.

Now that classified material has been found in former Vice President Mike Pence’s house as well, it is clearly visible in the corridors of power that as current or former officials search their cabinets or closets, more moments will come to the fore.

The Carter administration files ended up in Kristin’s hands through a somewhat circuitous route.

Two days after the 1980 debate, businessman Alan Preble found the papers in his Cleveland hotel room, apparently forgotten by Carter’s press secretary, Jody Powell. Preble took them to his home in Franklin Park, where they remained as a barely-appreciated souvenir for more than three years.

“We had seen them, but we didn’t think they were important,” Kristin’s mother, Carol Preble, recalled at the time, apparently unfazed by the secrecy seals.

But for social studies class, Kristin thought they would be very interesting. I also thought they would be great.”

So on January 19, 1984, the girl brought the zippered briefcase to Ingomar School.

His teacher, Jim DeLisio, widened his eyes when he saw the warnings on the documents inside. Among them: “Classified, Confidential, Executive” and “Property of the United States Government.”

“Actually I didn’t want to see them,” he said then. “I was too… scared. I didn’t want to know.”

However, his curiosity got the best of him. That night, he said, he, his wife and their daughter pored over the documents, which contained “everything you ever wanted to know from A to Z” about events in the world and the United States. One folder was marked with the word “Iran” and other documents contained information about Libya.

After being unable to reach Kristin’s family by phone, DeLisio called the FBI the next day, who quickly recovered the material.

A Justice Department official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said the packet of documents was 4 inches (10 centimeters) thick.

Despite DeLisio delivering the secret documents to the appropriate location, school officials reprimanded the teacher for calling authorities before visiting or contacting the Preble family.

Ultimately, the discovery ended a wide-ranging investigation by a Democratic-led congressional committee into official Carter documents obtained by the victorious Reagan campaign.

The Reagan administration’s Justice Department rejected the panel’s request to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the case. Then a lawsuit that tried to force that appointment through the courts failed, and no criminal charges were filed. The debate fizzled out, but not the concerns about how those in power handle classified documents.

As for Kristin, she got an A in History and a passing grade for her school project.


The report was based on a report by Associated Press journalist Marcia Dunn in January 1984 and an investigation by Rhonda Schaffner in New York.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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