Next month will mark the one-year anniversary of Hillary’s email scandal becoming public. Since then, the American people have been baptized in both the intelligence community’s jargon and attorney’s legalese.
It’s easy to get lost in the nuanced arguments surrounding Hillary Clinton’s emails. Was it simply a benign decision, or a determined effort to skirt laws and protocols? For the remnant of Americans that still adhere to common sense, the use of a single device and a private server screamed of impropriety, and the claim to have never transferred classified information was always a non-starter.
Here’s the recap.
In this Oct. 18, 2011, file photo, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton checks her Blackberry from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya. (AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque, Pool, File)
Over the weekend, the State Department released over 500 more emails—81 were classified Confidential, and three were Secret. The previous email dump, on January 29, contained 22 emails that were deemed too sensitive to release because the information contained is classified Top Secret. In total, 45,830 pages have been released, over 3,000 have yet to be released, and a total of 1,300 have been deemed to contain classified information.
Now, here’s why Clinton’s nonchalant transferring of “non-classified information” is gross negligence. Spoiler alert, it’s based entirely on semantics.
It is important to recognize that the difference between information and intelligence is a formality. Or what the intelligence community calls processing. In the case of Human Intelligence (HUMINT), processing occurs at the collector’s level.
HUMINT collectors are entrusted with determining the content, value and classification level of their reporting. After informal meetings or debriefing of sources, it is their analysis that transforms raw information into an intelligence product ready for publication.
In my experience, once a HUMINT report is submitted for publication, apart from formatting issues, rarely is it altered—and never is it rejected. Actually, the only reason for rejecting a submitted report would be the certainty that the information was explicitly false.
It is highly unlikely that any of the retroactively classified “information” that was sent, was done so believing the information was not reliable or actionable intelligence. The implication, therefore, is that all information that is in the intelligence production process should be safeguarded to the same degree as the expected outcome.
Safeguarding of information does not begin after a classification has been assigned.
Unfortunately, this is the rationale behind Hillary Clinton’s repeated statement, “I did not send nor did I receive material marked classified.” This line of reasoning would have you believe that intelligence is a result of colored letters on the header and footer of a document and not the actual information that document contains. That sensitive information passed informally from colleagues was permitted across unsecured networks due to lack of processing, and that retroactive classification was nothing more than an unforeseeable outcome. It’s this type of alarming logic that somehow drove the former secretary’s mishandling of classified material while at the State Department.
I understand that up-to-the-minute information is a necessity for decision makers, and at times, the process of intelligence publication can be inefficient. However, the requirement for timely information can never be used to rationalize the exposure of “future intelligence.” There is absolutely no excuse for “sensitive information,” i.e., unprocessed intelligence, to ever be transmitted over an unsecured network.
According to a 2013 video released by Fox News, former Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman tells an audience that BlackBerrys have changed the way diplomacy is done, and "Things appear on your BlackBerrys that would never be on an unclassified system. But you're out traveling; you're trying to negotiate something. You want to communicate with people, it's the fastest way to do it."
She further explains that it was in the interest of speed that certain information would be shared that normally, “would never be on an unclassified system."
Unfortunately, the convenience of a BlackBerry is not a justification, and for Clinton’s entire tenure at the State Department—2009-2013—there were systems already in place to address the issue of traveling diplomats and classified information.
The reality is, Clinton staffers only needed to make a simple request for support to the Defense Information Systems Agency, which would have immediately produced one device that afforded both secure and non-secure communication. In 2010, the SME-PED gave users access to classified voice and data, up to the secret level, from anywhere in the world. Although it was aptly referred to as a 21st century “Zack Morris phone,” what it lacked in aesthetics it made up for in legality.
So were Secretary Clinton and her staff willfully bypassing the law, or was it incompetence? We may never discover the actual motivation that led to classified material being handled in such an appalling fashion, but one thing is for sure—protocols were circumvented, and someone has to be held accountable.
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