It seems to me that the ongoing saga “Hillary and her e-mails” would be an unbelievable, almost comical fable if it weren’t such a serious story. Who could ever have imagined a Secretary of State of the United States – one of the highest ranking members of the President’s cabinet-could have set up a personal, private e-mail service to conduct the official business of the office?
With all the concern about protecting sensitive communications from being compromised and efforts at countermeasures, such as sophisticated encryption techniques, we would expect an experienced politician and old hand at government procedures to realize such a personal e-mail service could not be used for sensitive or classified messages.
Recent news reports, however, indicate investigators have identified “hundreds of potentially classified e-mails” could be among the next batch of messages to be released from the former Secretary’s cache from her personal server.
Hey, having classified material stored in an unapproved location – whether it be a home, business or a computer system – is a violation of federal law. Just ask a retired general and director of the CIA among others who have been reminded of this – the hard way. No one should be exempt or excused from compliance.
You know, millions or probably tens of millions of folks in this country have had access to classified material at one time in their lives – and have been instructed in the proper safeguarding of that material. I haven’t had a security clearance for over 20 years but I imagine the basic procedures, practices, restrictions, and such have not changed substantially from the 30 years or so during which I had access.
Furthermore, just because an individual no longer has a clearance and access to classified material doesn’t remove the obligation to protect that knowledge.
OK, so why is stuff “classified?” In general, the reason is that revelation of the material would cause harm to our country. Categories such as “confidential, secret, and top secret” indicate the degree of damage disclosure would inflict, the procedures required for protection, and the clearance level needed for access.
What makes something classified? Well, there is obviously the content itself, During World War II, for example, a member of Congress reportedly announced to his constituents he had learned from a briefing by the Navy we had little to worry about danger to our submarines in the Pacific. The reason? The Japanese depth charges were too small and were detonated at too shallow a depth. Thanks a lot.
The other primary reason for classifying and safeguarding is to shield the source. During World War II, for example, British intelligence had managed to “break” the German military code. In one instance they learned of a impending large air raid destined for the English city of Coventry. Officials could have diverted air defense fighters to protect the city but doing so would have tipped off the Germans that their code had been broken. Rather than risk loss of that invaluable intelligence source British officials did not act on the information and the raid took place as the Germans had planned. Protecting the source can be costly.
Enough of this educational stuff and back to Hillary and her e-mails. According to news stories an inspector general report concluded she had classified material stored on her personal computer system. The State Department, however, has countered with the claim that “no material sent or received by Mrs. Clinton was classified at the time it was transmitted … and the department sometimes needs to retroactively classify material.” She also told reporters, “… I did not send or receive anything that was classified at the time.” Got that? If the material was classified after the fact it’s no problem. Sound like an exercise in legal “weasel-wording?”
Years ago there was a category of unclassified messages labeled EFTO (Encrypt For Transmission Only) meaning the content, such as logistics information, would be protected during the sending/ receiving process. Logistics stuff, even though unclassified, can be of considerable interest to foreign intelligence analysts. In a most bizarre reversal of this procedure, Mrs. Clinton and the State Department have apparently introduced a new category – CUR (Classify Upon Receipt) so she could use her private server to send/receive “then-unclassified” messages.
Why would she inaugurate such an unprecedented procedure? Ignorance of proper protocol? Arrogance in the belief she is not bound by rules as others are? We’ll probably never know – but one thing for sure. The chronicle of “Hillary and her e-mails” will prove to be an interesting footnote in the history of this country. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.