We have been closely following the Clinton email scandal and this morning additional information was leaked on the 22 “top secret” emails withheld by the States Department An official is quoted as saying that some of those emails contained “operational intelligence” and jeopardized “sources, methods and lives.” While I agree with the Clinton campaign that these leaks are themselves problematic (both in terms of their timing and their disclosures from an ongoing investigation), I have long maintained that this was a serious scandal and that Clinton’s evolving defense does not track with national security rules or procedures. I consider the decision to use exclusively an unsecure server for “convenience” to be a breathtakingly reckless act for one of the top officials in our government. I am also deeply concerned about the level of “spin” coming from the campaign that is misrepresenting the governing standards and practices in the field. Much of what has been said in defense of Clinton’s use of the email system is knowingly misleading in my view.
In addition, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., who sits on the House intelligence committee, “suggested the military and intelligence communities have had to change operations” due to the presumption that Clinton’s emails were compromised.
Since this is in a long-standing field of practice, I have been watching the scandal unfold with particular interest. I have previously noted that the decision of Clinton to use a personal server showed incredibly bad judgment that put classified information at risk. The defense that the information was not marked, which the campaign has been using recently, does not address the fundamental issues in the scandal.
Clinton has insisted that “I never sent classified material on my email, and I never received any that was marked classified.” The key of this spin is again the word “marked.” 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. Indeed that understanding was formally agreed to by Clinton when she signed the “Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement,” or SF-312, which states that “classified information is marked or unmarked classified information, including oral communications.” 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. Classified oral communications are not “marked” nor would classified information removed from secure systems and sent via a personal server. Likewise, classified oral communications that are followed up with emails would not be “marked.” 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.
What is equally curious is the decision by Clinton to double down in the last town hall and reject the claim that she used “poor judgment” in using an unsecure system. To say that you decided to risk confidential and classified communications for “convenience” is hardly a compelling case for someone who is running on her national security and foreign affairs experience.