By Kai EL’Zabar
Defender Executive Editor
There’s been a lot said about whether or not Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account put national security information at risk. That’s the question that’s been raised most recently as new information has been reported and at times misreported. Mainstream media chooses to report that it is an impossible question to answer. They claim that their research shows the evidence isn’t clear-cut.
I want to suggest that no matter the outcome the real question should be directed to national security. It seems that the matter of her email is the responsibility of the Federal government’s Executive Branch Cyber security. Listen, I know that you know that your company operates on a server designed specifically to protect its most coveted secrets and information. I know that I cannot utilize my personal email or any email off the company’s grid/server as a company email because of that very reason. So in our exploration of who’s responsible for any possible breech of security ultimately it must go back to the Federal Government Executive Branch Cyber Security.
Our question then should be addressed to them. Why would they allow her the usage of an email outside the jurisdiction of protected security? She should never have been permitted to use an email that was not issued to her based on her work or position as U.S. Secretary of State. I don’t care if she is a past First Lady. At the end of the day who dictates to whom the ‘email internet’ protocol?
It doesn’t matter that we know that the idea that classified information would be in her emails runs contrary to Clinton’s own narrative. Since she first addressed her email habits in March, she’s said she didn’t interact with classified information that way. Rather, she viewed sensitive information in hard copy in her office and through other secure methods while traveling.
Though this controversy has been fuel for the House Benghazi Committee, whose members are interested in how Clinton’s email choices affected the 2012 terrorist attack on a diplomatic compound and its aftermath the truth is that it’s been driven by the Republican’s as a deflection from the lack of Republican candidates seeking the 2016 presidential nomination (actually it’s a deflection from the ill prepared GOP candidates). So as usual the Republicans have masterfully drawn attention on Hillary Clinton’s perceived vulnerability to draw doubt and point to seeming weaknesses.
Already on more than one occasion, in fact on numerous occasions when asked if she would do anything differently, Hillary Clinton has stood her ground, stating, —At the time, given the information she had, she’d make the same choice.’ This has not faired well with the media and in turn with some of the public. But isn’t that what all of us do? We work with what we have and that’s what we derive our choices from. Granted most of our choices don’t involve the potential life or death of others yet the principle is the same. We can’t ignore that. Yes four American servicemen died at Benghazi but it goes with the territory.
Let’s examine the new evidence and what it reveals about Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.
The new evidence is intergovernmental memos from two government guard dog agencies: the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (IGIC) and the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), are both independent of their respective agencies. Each were asked by The Benghazi committee to review the email practices of former secretaries of state. The reviews examined the State Department’s process for publication of 55,000 pages of Clinton’s emails, which she provided to the department fall 2014.
There are two memos, one is an update to Congress about the investigation, and the other is a dialog between the State Department and the two inspectors general. The memos seem to say point-blank that Clinton’s email trove contains information that was classified at the time it was sent. Seem is the operative word here.
On July 24, The New York Times reported that the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community had sent a security referral to members of the executive branch and the memos started to circulate. The security referral is essentially a notification that classified information might exist in a location outside of the government’s possession (in this case, Clinton’s private email server).
You need to understand that the New York Times originally incorrectly said the inspectors general requested a criminal investigation into Clinton’s email use — as opposed to a security referral — but the newspaper later issued two corrections. The referral is in connection with Clinton’s account, not whether Clinton herself mishandled information, and did not alledge criminal activity. That’s the point. Clinton should have been issued a proper email account on the White House secure server.
The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community reviewed a 40-email sample of the 55,000 pages and found that four out of the 40 contained classified information that “should never have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system.” These four emails have not been released to the public.
Note, none of these emails were marked “classified.” Without a label, it’s nearly impossible to prove whether Clinton or someone who emailed her passed along classified information, whether willfully or negligently. We don’t know if the sender knew the information was classified, where they got their information from, or who declared the information classified in the first place.
Does this mean Clinton was wrong to say there was no classified material in her email?
Not necessarily. As confusing as it may seem, these two assertions –– Clinton’s claim that she did not have any classified information in her email and the inspector general’s claim that she did — could both be partially accurate. This is primarily because the State Department disputes whether the information was classified.
Agencies regularly disagree about whether information should be classified, often arguing over lines within the same document, said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive. If the intelligence community declares something classified from its perspective, that does not automatically trump the State Department’s own decision that the same piece of information is not classified. This perhaps has to do with the individual department’s interest and focus.
However as the secretary, Clinton had ultimate authority to declare the email unclassified — which she could do by simply leaving it without a label — because the information originated in the State Department, despite the fact that it also originated in the intelligence community.
However, if information came solely from the CIA, and it ended up in Clinton’s email without the proper classification marking, that could be problematic, said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
Ultimately, both Blanton and Aftergood said the memos tell us much more about the turf war between State and the intelligence community than they do about how Clinton handled her emails. Ummm. Aftergood makes good points, What does it say about Secretary Clinton? It doesn’t say anything about deliberate or negligent mishandling of classified information.”
Blanton said, “The intelligence community is trying to override State Department determination. … It doesn’t say anything about Mrs. Clinton’s own activities.”
Still there’s cause for concern from an information security perspective about Clinton’s decision to exclusively use a private email server, Aftergood noted. Yet again my question is how is that she gets to determine that? Even if it isn’t officially classified, information sent to the secretary of state is, by its nature, sensitive and should have been flagged again by security. That’s their responsibility.
What’s been discussed are emails that contained information that was considered classified at the time the emails were sent. The edited emails that the State Department has released so far are because the department later decided the information was classified — meaning no one mishandled this information by sending it initially without a classification label. Classification upgrades like this occasionally happens if new information comes introduced to the thread that affects the sensitivity of the information.
Additionally, some information is exempted from Freedom of Information Act releases for other reasons — such as privileged communications between government officials.
Word is the Benghazi Committee is expected to grill Clinton about her email use in an October hearing. But as of this moment, Blanton sums it up, “It’s not proof.”
Benghazi should be behind us— and we should be assessing Donald Trump. If you think he’s rogue now imagine him as President. We’ll have more than emails off the grid to concern ourselves with.