Hillary Clinton went into damage-control mode when news broke that the inspector general of the intelligence agencies had identified additional classified emails on her private server, including ones containing intelligence on covert “Special Access Programs.” Her campaign even accused the inspector general — an Obama appointee confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Senate — of engaging in a “coordinated leak” with Republicans “for the purposes of hurting her campaign.”
Lash out as she might, Clinton’s constantly changing email story is rapidly falling apart. First, Clinton claimed there was “no classified material” on her private server — which turned out to be untrue. Then she claimed none of the intelligence on her server was “classified at the time” — which also turned out to be untrue. Now, in a National Public Radio interview last week, Clinton said there was no information that was “marked classified.”
But this is not a defense.
It is against the law to remove classification markings from classified information and enter it into an unclassified system — which is the only way this information could have found its way into more than 1,300 emails on Clinton’s personal server. There is no way to “accidentally” send classified information by unclassified email. Senior officials have separate computers in their offices for classified and unclassified information. The two systems are not connected. The only way information from the classified system can make it onto an unclassified system is for someone to intentionally put it there — either by taking a document that is marked classified and typing the information without markings into an unclassified email, or by putting a thumb drive into their classified computer, downloading information and then putting that thumb drive into an unclassified computer, as Edward Snowden did. In either case, it is a crime.
So Clinton’s defense that the information was not “marked” classified does not absolve her of wrongdoing. Quite the opposite, it puts her in greater legal jeopardy.
The revelation that the intelligence on her private server included discussions of Special Access Programs makes the situation even more serious. Having any classified information on your private server is against the law. But Special Access Programs contain information so sensitive, it is given a secret “codeword” and placed into a “compartment” to which only a small number of specially cleared people have access. To see this information, it is not enough to have Top Secret security clearance; you have to be cleared for that specific compartment.
Having that kind of super-sensitive, codeword-protected, compartmented information on her unsecured server in her Chappaqua, N.Y., basement put U.S. national security in grave danger — because foreign powers could easily hack into her system and get it. In August, NBC News reported that “China’s cyber spies have accessed the private emails of ‘many’ top Obama administration officials . . . and have been doing so since at least April 2010. The email grab — first codenamed ‘Dancing Panda’ by U.S. officials, and then ‘Legion Amethyst’ — was detected in April 2010 . . . [and] is still going on.” We also know that Russian hackers successfully penetrated the State Department’s computer systems. Does anyone believe they did not target Clinton’s unsecured private server as well? It would be a miracle if the intelligence on her server was not currently in the hands of foreign intelligence services.
Clinton’s latest defense is that “it’s likely what they are referring to is the forwarding of a New York Times article” containing leaked intelligence about the drone program. First, she has no way of knowing that. Second, even if true, that is still not a defense. Think about her argument: Because the Obama administration leaked highly classified information about our drone program to the New York Times, she was no longer obligated as secretary of state to treat the program as classified? That is not going to go very far with the FBI agents investigating her right now.
Her team says the drone program was an “open secret.” But our government has no category of “open secret,” and the fact that a classified covert action program has been reported by the New York Times does not make it unclassified. When I was in the White House, I wrote President George W. Bush’s speech acknowledging the existence of another special access program — the CIA interrogation program. Its existence had also been reported by the New York Times. But I had to write the speech in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) at the National Security Council, on a top-secret computer that was not even connected to the top-secret Internet system. Until Bush delivered it, the details were Top Secret/Codeword intelligence.
For government officials to discuss such a program on a private, unsecured email server is a criminal offense — a fact Clinton should soon learn the hard way.