The number of emails now marked classified doubled with the latest release. – Politico
The controversy over Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email while she was secretary of state is showing no signs of easing, as the number of messages now deemed classified doubled with the State Department’s latest release and as more details emerged about the potential vulnerability of her account.
The number of emails now considered classified total more than 400, with three of the 215 newly classified documents marked as SECRET — the middle tier of the national security classification system. While Clinton has maintained that she never received or forwarded messages that were marked classified at the time, critics have argued that the use of a private email account and server put her in a precarious position when dealing with sensitive materials.
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In another blow to the Clinton campaign’s “nothing to see here” narrative, the latest release shows that hackers targeted her personal email at least five times in August 2011, as part of a widespread speeding ticket hoax. It’s not clear if Clinton ever clicked on what appeared to be virus-laden attachments that security experts say seem to have originated in Russia. Clinton and her surrogates have argued there is no evidence her “home brew” email system was ever compromised.
Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill maintained that stance Wednesday. “We have no evidence to suggest she replied to this email nor that she clicked on the attachment,” Merrill said. “As we have said before, there is no evidence that the system was ever breached. All these emails show is that, like millions of other Americans, she received spam.”
The latest release of roughly 6,300 more pages of emails is just the latest installment of a prolonged disclosure process that has proved to be painful for Clinton’s presidential campaign. The roiling controversy has opened up the Democratic front-runner to accusations that she was trying to dodge public records rules and that she put sensitive material at risk — allegations Clinton denies.
Wednesday’s release marks the first time the State Department itself has deemed messages in Clinton’s account to warrant protection at the SECRET level — the middle tier of the national security classification system. State earlier classified one Benghazi-related message SECRET, but did so at the request of the FBI.
Two of the just-released SECRET emails pertain to talks about the Iranian nuclear program, conducted by a group of nations referred to as the P5+1. The messages are from January 21 and 22, 2011 and were forwarded to Clinton’s private account by Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan, who now serves as policy director on Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The substance of the two emails was redacted from the public release, but the subject lines identify the messages as summaries of the nuclear talks underway in Istanbul, Turkey. A State Department spokesman said that message, and the others deemed classified, were not marked as such when they were sent to Sullivan by other State officials.
Republicans and some security experts have said the forwarding of such sensitive messages to Clinton’s private account risked national security and made them vulnerable to interception and hacking. Aides to Clinton’s presidential campaign have argued that classified messages are not supposed to be on unclassified systems, either in or out of government, so the former secretary’s reliance on a private account is irrelevant to that issue.
The other message deemed “SECRET” in Wednesday’s release is only classified in a technical sense. The document, forwarded to Clinton by Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, is a transcript of a June 15, 2008 Mideast peace negotiating session between the U.S., Israel and Palestinian officials. The transcript was obtained from anonymous sources by Al Jazeera in 2011 and published on the news outlet’s website.
It appears Abedin, now the vice chairwoman of Clinton’s campaign, got the transcript from State officials who downloaded it off the Internet and were debating how to respond to the leak. The decision to later classify the document may reflect the fact that the U.S. government has never formally acknowledged the accuracy of the slew of Mideast peace process-related documents Al Jazeera posted.
“I’m not going to comment on alleged leaked documents,” a State official said Wednesday. “These are not U.S. documents and I will not comment on their veracity. As we have produced this document using the FOIA standards, it is our responsibility to protect potentially sensitive information.”
The newest set of emails, bringing the total number of pages released to more than 19,500, largely cover the period between early 2010 and October 2011, days before the death of Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi. State is keeping to its prior practice of releasing emails from Clinton’s account in rough chronological order, exceeding its September goal of producing 37 percent of the entire trove.
Among the topics covered in the new batch: the response to the earthquake disaster in Haiti, the Arab Spring democracy movement, the build-up and the NATO intervention in Libya and the disclosure of tens of thousands of classified diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks.
“DOD still in denial over their lapses, and their tendency to lowball damage in public is really unhelpful,” deputy Secretary William Burns wrote in an email to Sullivan about the WikiLeaks fiasco, which he forwarded on to Clinton in early December 2010.
When Tunisia overthrew longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in early January 2011, the first domino to fall in the Arab Spring, Clinton and her aides corresponded over intelligence and media coverage.
“Did you see the front page Post story on Tunisia today? The reference to you – your trip and your statement – was exactly what we were going for,” Sullivan wrote on Jan. 15, 2011.
As unrest grew in Egypt later that month, Clinton wrote Sullivan and Abedin early one Sunday morning, asking if they had any overnight reports. “Just got one at 7:40 and sent [to] you,” Abedin responded.
That October in Libya, as rebels closed in on Gadhafi, Abedin kept Clinton informed of developments. In the most recent email released Wednesday, Abedin shared a Reuters article from Oct. 16, 2011, which reported that interim government forces had raised Libya’s new flag over a Gadhafi stronghold, four days before the dictator was killed.
Another message foreshadowed the risks of American personnel in hostile territories.
In 2011, Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills forwarded Clinton an email from Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, recounting an incident where American personnel were at “real risk of serious bodily harm.”
Other messages revealed moments of confusion about email addresses and contact information, including talk from Mills about attempts to hack her email and chatter about how often top State Deparment officials used home email accounts.
In one email chain from June 2011, adviser Anne-Marie Slaughter suggested that Clinton or someone at State send a message to Congress about the agency’s outdated technology by publicly raising the fact that high-level officials were regularly using personal email accounts to do business because the official systems were so dysfunctional.
“I think this makes good sense,” Clinton wrote.
However, Mills shot down the suggestion, writing, “I am not sure we want to telegraph how much folks do or don’t do off state mail b/c it may encourage others who are out there.” She also said she was writing the email “as someone who attempted to be hacked (yes I was one).”
Slaughter responded, saying that a better approach might be to do it more quietly with lawmakers through Clinton.
In another July 2011 email chain from Clinton to Nora Toiv, Mills’ assistant, the secretary appeared confused about whether she had Toiv’s State or Gmail address.
“You’ve always emailed me on my State email which is firstname.lastname@example.org,” Toiv wrote.
“Even weirder–I just checked and I do have your state but not your gmail–so how did that happen. Must be the Chinese!” Clinton responded.
However, these new messages did not appear to shed light on other aspects of the email mess that have been politically problematic, such as Clinton’s decision to delete about 30,000 emails when she returned roughly 32,000 others to State last December. Clinton has said she did that after her lawyers determined the messages to be erased were entirely personal in nature.
Republican lawmakers have questioned how those decisions were made. The FBI, which is investigating whether the use of the private account resulted in a breach of classified information or hacking by a foreign government, has reportedly been successful at recovering some of the deleted emails. Conservative groups suing for Clinton’s records under the Freedom of Information Act have asked that the FBI be forced to turn over any emails it does recover to the State Department.
Clinton’s aides have insisted her campaign is still on track, but she conceded in an interview this week that the email controversy is a headache that she hasn’t been able to shake.
“It is like a drip, drip, drip,” Clinton said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “There’s only so much that I can control….The Justice Department has the emails, they have the server, they’re conducting a security inquiry. They will take whatever necessary steps are required to get this matter resolved.”
Clinton also stood by her claim she used the private account for convenience and flatly rejected suggestions it was set up to make her communications harder for Republicans or FOIA requesters to lay their hands on.
“It’s totally ridiculous. That never crossed my mind,” she said.
Despite the release Wednesday, State’s effort to make public the trove of Clinton emails—a project carried out month-by-month in response to a federal judge’s order in a FOIA case—is only a little more than one-third complete. More releases are scheduled monthly from October through January, when the first caucusing and voting for the Democratic presidential nomination gets underway.
Last week, State sent the House Benghazi Committee more than 900 emails relating to Libya that were not included in a batch of about 300 emails provided to the panel in February. However, while the nearly 300 Benghazi-related emails were the first ones State made public in May, the newly-delivered batch is not being prioritized for public release. So those messages will be scattered through the remaining batches to be posted on State’s website, a State official said.
The vast majority of the more than 400 messages deemed classified in the public releases thus far have been designated as “CONFIDENTIAL,” the lowest tier of protection for classified information and one applied to foreign government information or diplomatic communications.
Intelligence agencies have said several other messsages in Clinton’s account contained more highly classified information, including at least two messages classified “TOP SECRET” or higher. State has disputed that assertion, arguing that the information was developed from sources the intelligence community may be unaware of.
When the controversy over Clinton’s private email account erupted in March, she said she’d turned over about 55,000 pages of messages to State in December. State now says the count was just over 54,000 pages. After a review by Clinton’s former agency and the National Archives, about 1,500 pages have been deemed wholly personal and therefore not agency records subject to the Freedom of Information Act. That leaves about 52,500 pages processed for release or awaiting release.
Clinton’s attorney has asked that the roughly 1,500 pages deemed personal be returned but there’s no indication that has happened.
While legal jockeying continues over Clinton’s emails, the sprawling litigation has now spread to thousands of messages turned over to State by her top aides in recent months in response to similar requests State made for work-related messages in their custody. State has said it has no plans to release the full collection of the staffers’ messages, but is searching them in response to FOIA requests and lawsuits.