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FBI search of Mar-a-Lago raises critical national security questions: Sources

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(WASHINGTON) — Administration sources familiar with the investigation tell ABC News the amount and the sensitivity of confidential, secret and top-secret documents allegedly discovered in the Mar-a-Lago search raise critical national security questions that must be urgently addressed.

Those officials say law enforcement and security officials must now try to track the chain of custody of the material and try to determine if any of the material was compromised.

Officials acknowledged these critical questions need to be addressed because the material, in theory, would be of great value to foreign adversaries and even allies. Interviews with Trump administration officials are anticipated and authorities may even check for fingerprints to see if that provides insight into who had access.

The FBI warrant and inventory allege that 11 sets of sensitive information were recovered during the Mar-a-Lago search — including confidential, secret and top-secret documents. There was even top-secret, sensitive compartmented information (SCI) material. This classification of materials sometimes involves nuclear secrets and terrorism operations based on a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) overview of security protocols, which ABC News has reviewed.

The top-secret SCI documents are classified as national intelligence and involve intel “concerning or derived from intelligence sources,” according to a (DNI) document reviewed for this reporting. This material may come from allies, spying, eavesdropping or informants.

Top-secret SCI should only be handled under the strictest of conditions in secure-designated locations. Such locations are supposed to be impervious to eavesdropping and no electronic devices are allowed. Only a select few are ever allowed to view SCI — for example, a “need to know appropriately cleared recipient.”

Why the concern? U.S. officials know such sensitive documents are targeted by enemy nations and other adversaries who are constantly attempting espionage and eavesdropping activities here in the U.S.

Loss of information classified as confidential would “damage” national security — loss of secret documents would cause “serious damage” to national security and the compromise of top-secret material creates the potential for “exceptionally grave damage to the national security,” according to Executive Order No. 13526 signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2009.

Among the critical questions in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago raid are how were critical documents stored at the White House, and how was it that so many boxes of such highly classified material could be removed in the first place; who exactly was involved in the authorization to remove the material and who removed the material; how was the material transported to Mar-a-Lago — by plane, by truck — and who had access to it during transport. Top-secret material must have specifically authorized transport, may not be sent via U.S. mail and may only be transmitted by authorized government courier service. Other critical questions include: was the material stored in Mar-a-Lago, who had access to it and was it under constant security camera surveillance; and what were the security measures and protocols.

The Presidential Records Act establishes that presidential records automatically transfer into the legal custody of the archivist as soon as the president leaves office.

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