The controversy over the use of a private server by Hillary Clinton has deepened with the classification of an addition 41 messages by the State Department. While Clinton has insisted that there was nothing classified on her email system and that any dispute is just a bureaucratic squabble “between agencies” the classification of many of these emails is no surprise to many of us who regularly deal with classified material. The classification of these emails will likely reignite demands for Clinton to turn over the server and raise the question of those thousands of emails that Clinton’s aides unilaterally deleted before turning over emails to the government. The classification level however of most of these messages are at the lowest level of such designations.
Clinton continues to stress that she did not send or receive any material marked classified. I have previously discussed why that explanation is less than compelling, particularly for anyone who has handled sensitive or classified material. As I discussed earlier, virtually anything coming out of the office of the Secretary of State would be considered classified as a matter of course. I have had a TS/SCI clearance since Reagan due to my national security work and have lived under the restrictions imposed on email and other systems. The defense is that this material was not technically classified at the time that it was sent. Thus it was not “classified” information. The problem is that it was not reviewed and classified because it was kept out of the State Department system. Moreover, most high-level communications are treated as classified and only individually marked as classified when there is a request for disclosure. You do not generate material as the Secretary of State and assume that it is unclassified. You are supposed to assume and treat it as presumptively classified. Otherwise, there would be massive exposure of classified material and willful blindness as to the implications of the actions of persons disregarding precautions. For example, there is not a person standing next to the President with a classification stamp in the Oval Office. However, those communications are deemed as presumptively classified and are not disclosed absent review. Under the same logic, the President could use a personal email system because his text messages by definition are not marked as classified. This is the whole reason that Clinton and others were told to use the protected email system run by the State Department. We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to secure such systems.
Clinton portrayed the dispute as entirely removed from her controversial decision to use a personal server — a move that gave her total control of the server and ultimately allowed her staff to delete thousands of emails before turning over emails to the State Department: “They can fight over it or argue over it. That’s up to them. I can tell you what the facts are.”
The second installment of emails from Hillary Clinton’s private home-brew server were found to contain classified material, though it appears to have been classified at the lowest level of “confidential.” As Secretary of State, she was one of the very top targets for foreign surveillance and yet refused to use the State Department system designed to protect such messages despite their importance to the United States. For example, one message reportedly concerned information then-Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman wanted Clinton to have before she took a phone call with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The email controversy appears to bit part of an overall slump for Clinton who has fallen in recent polls. While Democratic loyalists still give her solid marks, polls show a growing view of Clinton for many as not being trustworthy.
The classification of much of this material at the confidential level is still much better than it could be. My assumption is that, if such to classification review at the time, many of these communications would have been classified at the secret level given their sensitivity and connection to ongoing diplomatic actions.
The review is ongoing for those emails turned over earlier by Clinton.