During an interview on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace questioned President Obama about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email controversy. In response, the president made the profound statement “there’s classified, and then there’s classified” - and by profound I mean stupid.
For the average Obama/Clinton supporter - pronounced confused citizen - there were doubtless nods of agreement while secretly wondering what sort of deep insight the former constitutional law professor had on the word classified. The comment by the president likely served as their “aha!” moment and was quickly followed by collective sighs of relief, fully confident that their guy had just laid to rest the apprehension that was beginning to build concerning their gal.
Image source: "Fox News Sunday"
Well, sorry to invade your safe space, but the profundity of Obama’s statement on classified information ranks right up there with dancing the tango of solidarity with an attractive Argentinian woman, his belief that the attacks in Paris were a set back, and his repeated mispronunciation of the word corpsman - a video that still makes me feel uncomfortable when I watch it.
I tried hard, for about a minute, to consider if what the president said could have any legitimate or underlying relevance to Clinton’s email dilemma. All I could come up with was that the president was trying to highlight the fact that some information that is classified should probably not be.
On this point, I agree with the president.
Unfortunately, the fact that the president, myself and every person who has ever worked with classified information concurs with this point, does not abdicate the personal responsibility to safeguard classified information.
It would be so convenient if consumers of intelligence could arbitrarily decide if the information was “over-classified,” but surely there is a reason we cannot.
Why would someone in their right mind ever come up with such a strict set of guidelines?
Could there be a legitimate reason that passing along our nation's secrets should not be as easy as forwarding a yoga routine? Is it possible that the rationale behind the establishment of strict procedures was to ensure information that has the potential to cause grave danger to Americans is not compromised?
Yes, the rules and regulations that standardize the handling of classified information are restrictive and often mind-numbingly inconvenient. Yes, there is almost always information contained in classified documents that can be found on Google. However, the fact that information can be found in open source does not make it any less classified. What makes it classified is the fact that someone trained in intelligence labeled it as such.
Could it be over-classified? Of course. Does over-classification diminish the importance of safeguarding it? Absolutely not.
So did Clinton jeopardize national security? According to Obama, no. He believes that there was a “carelessness” with the way she handled her emails, but she has owned that carelessness and recognizes it.
Actually, the president went a step further and stated that she “did an outstanding job. And no one has suggested that in some ways, as a consequence of how she’s handled e-mails, that detracted from her excellent ability to carry out her duties.”
On this point, I disagree with the president.
In January of 2016, the State Department said it would not make public 22 of her emails because they contained highly classified information. These emails were found to contain top secret information. This top secret information was stored in a basement in Chappaqua, New York.
The Clinton campaign claimed this “appears to be over-classification run amok.”
Let’s be very clear on this point: Top secret information was found on her server. To me, over-classification implies that something top secret probably should have been left at the secret level. Or perhaps some intelligence producer was super overzealous and labeled something top secret that was actually confidential.
But the idea that somehow all of this information was just “open source” stuff that was retroactively determined to be top secret is absurd. The idea that this all could have been avoided if the intelligence producer had selected a different classification in a drop down menu is the epitome of stupidity. This is logic “run amok.”
Where you and I store Christmas ornaments and folding chairs, our secretary of state was stockpiling information that is required to be stored in a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF). Yet, despite this gross incompetence - according to the president - Clinton “did an outstanding job.”
Apparently, the standard is that low.
Later in the interview, Obama stated that “nobody gets treated differently when it comes to the Justice Department because nobody is above the law.”
I think it’s safe to assume that Obama also has complete confidence that Attorney General Loretta Lynch will also do an “outstanding job.”
At this point, however, “outstanding” is seemingly defined as forgettable, secretive and corrupt.
Anthony DeChristopher holds a M.A. in Strategic Security Studies from National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs. He blogs at exceptionism.com
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