Hillary Decides What’s Top Secret, What’s Not

Hillary Clinton and her campaign minions are trying mightily to dismiss the conclusions of the intelligence community inspector general that highly classified Special Access Protocol (SAP) documents were transferred to Clinton’s unsecured private server. The first line of Clinton’s defense is (as usual) that the allegations are 1) nothing new and 2) politically motivated. But beyond this usual rote Clintonian response is the additional claim that the documents were also 1) not so classified when Clinton received them and 2) even if they were classified documents the information they contained was public knowledge anyway, so no harm, no foul.

As to Clinton’s first line of defense, what can one say? You support Hillary and accept her mendacious paranoia as part of the package, or you don’t. That Charles McCollough (the IG) is an Obama appointee confirmed by a Democrat Senate, thus making the charge of that his actions are political even more absurd than usual, matters not to Clintonistas for whom truth and logic are inconveniences. 

The first part of Clinton’s second line of defense is of the bend but don’t break variety. Hillary first denied that any classified documents were sent or received over her server. When that proved patently false, she fell back and claimed that such documents were not so marked at the time, so how could she know? That this is not a legal defense under the applicable statutes doesn’t matter to the Clinton gang, it sounds okay, so go with it. At least one email reveals that Hillary instructed an aide to delete classified markings on a document and send it on an unsecure machine. But hey, when Hillary actually received it was not marked classified, so she was not lying about that, only breaking the law, and that’s just something that Clintons, from time to time, do.     

And finally we get to the real interesting part, the last line of Clinton’s defense, that even if the documents were classified at the highest level, it was all a mistake.  The information in the documents -- reportedly about the American drone strike program -- was public knowledge anyway, so whoever classified the documents didn’t know what they were doing. 

Now let’s take this position to its logical conclusion, which if applied across the board in the intelligence community or the military, anybody handling a sensitive document could determine on their own whether the document should be classified or not. “Oh sure” an Air Force officer might say “I posted a schematic of a new radar for the F-35 on my personal blog, but I hear the Chinese already have it anyway, so it’s really not classified. Please take off the handcuffs.”  

An apologia for Clinton’s actions on Media Matters citing various anonymous “government officials” basically attempts to explain why the SAP classified material was not really classified at all, and so nothing to get excited about. Since the drone strike program was already widely reported in the media, including the New York Times (as Mrs. Clinton pointed out the other day on NPR) how could documents relating to that possibly be secret? 

Well in fact, there are several reasons that the documents may have been highly classified regardless of the actual information contained within them. The first and most important is sources and methods. Many years ago I worked as an Intelligence Clerk in what was then called the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (BIR), Department of Soviet Internal Affairs. My job was basically to go through thousands of intelligence cables that came into the office every day, and pick out the few that were relevant to my department’s mission, to discern what was happening in the top echelons of the Soviet government. I looked at a lot of classified stuff, and ended up rejecting and burning about 90% of it. Almost all of the information in those thousands of classified documents was quite mundane. Often stuff you might read in the newspapers -- and in fact newspapers from the Soviet Union and elsewhere were a part of my daily intel trove. The reason why the documents were classified usually had to do with where they came from and how we got them, not what the documents said. Divulging that information could not only endanger sources but lives, and so is quite serious business.

Now the Media Matters article says that at least one of the two documents that were SAP marked did not come from confidential sources or methods, while the other -- well they can’t say so they just sort of mumble that part away. If even one of those documents came from a secure source or method, that is quite consequential, for most people handcuff time. 

But let’s assume that neither document originated with confidential sources or methods. Why might the intelligence community still highly classify the documents when the information contained in them about U.S. drone strikes was “public knowledge?” Well, because the U.S. still does not officially acknowledge the drone program, and an official document that does is by its very nature secret. Now Hillary or her supporters might think it is ridiculous that President Obama does not wish to publicly acknowledge this program, but that is really not their decision to make, is it? Hillary worked directly for the president, and if he and his national security team deemed that having some level of deniability for the drone program was important, even if reporters for the New York Times had already figured out that American drones were killing bad guys, then on what authority does Hillary ignore that?

Did Hillary go to the president first and say “Hey Barack, why are we denying this drone program when everybody knows you have a disposition matrix and knock these guys off once in awhile? Let’s declassify the whole thing.” That would have been okay, and then the president could have said yes or no. But Hillary didn’t do that, so far as we know. She and her aides just decided -- after the fact -- that this stuff was not worthy of classification so passing it around on an unsecured private email account was perfectly acceptable. 

Now way back when I was at BIR we might have gotten an embassy cable that said something like “Brezhnev and Andropov disagree over Soviet policy in Poland.” That might have been something that a prominent reporter (like the late Joseph Kraft who sometimes quietly stopped by the office to chat with my boss) might have already known. But were he to see the classified cable because I had carelessly left it out on a desk, even assuming that the source and method was benign, he would know that this was something that concerned U.S. diplomats which if reported would be known to the Soviets. And while that might not have been disastrous, it would not be something we’d wish to share. Not to mention I would have been fired and likely sent to jail. Like Hillary should be.