• How Clinton’s Handling Foreign Government Info Went Very Wrong

    September 10, 2015

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State

    hillary clinton

    There is a frightening misunderstanding, some intentional, some not, among the media on how classified information is created and handled.

    That misunderstanding turns much of the Clinton email story into a partisan shouting match, when knowing the facts of the classification system actually clarifies what happened and what it means.

    Let’s look at the State Department’s policies on handling foreign government information, and how Clinton’s actions were at specific variance with those policies.


    The tranche of Hillary Clinton’s emails released Aug. 31 contains 150 messages containing classified information. That brings the total number to more than 200.

    Let the spin begin.

    “The Department does not know for sure if any information was classified at the time it was sent or received on the private email server Clinton used for work,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters. “It’s not an exact science. When we’ve upgraded [a document’s classification], we’ve always said that that certainly does not speak to whether it was classified at the time it was sent.”

    Toner’s remarks are at variance with how the classification system works.

    (Full disclosure: Following the publication — during Clinton’s time as secretary of state — of my book critical of the State Department’s role in the Iraq War, the department unsuccessfully carried out termination proceedings against me. Instead, I retired voluntarily.)

    There are specific rules establishing government-wide, uniform standards as to what should be classified. And though Clinton has said she sent no information via email that was classified at the time and received none marked that way, the “marked/unmarked” issue is codified in security law and regulation. What matters is the information itself, whether its potential release would harm the United States or assist its adversaries. Gold is gold, whether it is labeled or not.

    In addition, if any of Clinton’s messages contained information that originated outside of the State Department, say something sourced from the CIA, then it is the originating agency alone which determines the classification of a document, not end users such as Clinton in 2010, or the State Department in 2015.

    Lastly, since there is clearly information in some 200 Clinton messages that cannot be in an unclassified setting now, then it is obvious it should not have been in an unclassified setting then.

    Of particular concern is that more than half of the now-classified Clinton emails consist of a special category: information shared in confidence by foreign government officials. The Department’s own regulations say this information must be safeguarded, and even require specialized markings in addition to the standard classification indicators such as “Confidential.”

    It makes sense; if a foreign leader shares something, only to learn the information was available to a hostile intelligence agency on an insecure email server, she or he is unlikely to trust the United States with information in the future. In such instances, it is the source of the information (for example, direct from then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair) that is perhaps more sensitive than the information itself. Imagine the difference between “an anonymous official” calling the Afghan president untrustworthy, and Blair himself exposed as saying the same.

    Asked whether Clinton followed the regulations on proper handling of foreign government information, the State Department spokesperson said, “I’m just not going to answer that question. It’s not our goal, it’s not our function.”

    That is inaccurate. The State Department maintains a significant infrastructure in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that does nothing else but monitor employees’ handling of foreign government and other classified or sensitive information. It is indeed a function of the agency.

    The issue of foreign government information handling is of critical importance to the State Department, given its mandate to carry out the foreign relations of the United States; so much so that the Department argued it to help convict Chelsea Manning after she transferred a large number of State Department cables to Wikileaks. State claimed the action significantly affected foreign governments’ confidence in exchanging information with the United States.

    Manning’s leak of government files, not all classified, had a chilling effect, impeding American diplomats’ ability to gather information, a senior State Department official testified. The unauthorized releases made foreign diplomats and business leaders “reticent to provide their full and frank opinions and share them with us,” Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy testified in 2013. “It’s impossible to know what someone is not sharing with you – and this is, in itself, I believe, a risk to the national security.”

    With some irony, at the exact time the Manning cables appeared on the Internet, Clinton was committing a similar act. Statute 18 USC 1924, “Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Documents or Material,” sets the standard as moving classified information to an unauthorized location (a private email server) and does not require the information to actually make it into the wild (Wikileaks) for a violation to occur. It’s also the same statute, inter alia, under which David Petraeus was prosecuted.

    The complexity of the classification issues regarding Clinton’s private email server are, in fact, why the decision to use one at all, in lieu of established official channels, remains an issue worthy of our attention, beyond the one of up-or-down criminality.


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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Where were the DS Flying Monkeys when the Wicked Witch was melting our national security? Were they willfully ignorant or afraid to confront their master? Leave it to the House to crush the witch under the weight of the emails.

      09/10/15 9:03 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Cousin Paul “Homer Simpson” Bauer always said their was something rotten in the State of State. Now we know.

      09/10/15 9:07 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Hillary: Yes, Congressman, I did leave the nuclear launch codes in my purse, but I was just elected and I had so much important stuff to do.

      09/10/15 9:44 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Peter, you should hope the birdbrain gets elected. Think of all the material she will generate for your blog.

      09/10/15 9:48 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Pags the IT geek wants to be placed in Witness Protection in addition to the immunity deal. If Hillary gets elected, Pags should seek asylum.

      09/10/15 9:54 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      09/10/15 10:01 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      There are different rules in OZ for the Rich and powerful:


      09/10/15 10:06 AM | Comment Link

    • person unknown said...


      Peter, another great column. Accurate and calmly implacable.

      I recommend a new analysis by U. Of Chicago professor Charles Lipson, who makes a number of points similar to yours and stresses that the intelligence community must be furious at Clinton and her circle for their brazen disregard of rules that IC professionals live with day in and day out. I suspect most FSOs and CS employees feel the same, regardless of their political affiliations.

      I don’t get why the Department keeps defending her. Is it all Kennedy? Where are senior DS and IT people and why aren’t they saying something like “we warned her but she wouldn’t listen . . .”?


      09/10/15 10:08 AM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      “Career before country,” yes, of course. But I’ll add “fear before country.” Fear of the powerful hand of the Clinton’s, whether she wins or loses, and fear that someone, somewhere is going to have to take a fall for all this. A lot of State people watched that happen post-Benghazi (and post- most everything else that goes wrong at State) and figure staying below the radar is the safe place for now.

      Still, as Ed Snowden will tell us, it only takes one brave person to expose it. The system is weak and susceptible to being torn open.

      09/10/15 10:25 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Why aren’t they speaking out? The same reason all those “intelligent” people said nothing about the lies of Iraqi WMDs: Career Before Country.

      09/10/15 10:12 AM | Comment Link

    • Bruce said...


      As a brave person, I say she’s up- and down-right criminal; the conflicts of interest and “even The APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY” can be added as her non-hiring (unelectable) abuses. Despicable she should Stay RESIGNED!

      09/10/15 10:59 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      The corrupt system’s primary mission is to protect itself and its motto is “Truth is the enemy.” Keep US Freedumb of information.

      Quick, get Janice Jacobs on the phone.

      09/10/15 11:22 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Even a brave person cannot stop what seems almost a divinely preordained destiny (Hillary becoming POTUS). Exposing the system or a person as corrupt doesn’t mean the system or the person folds.

      Rommel finally threw in with an assassination plot which Hitler miraculously survived. Hitler then gave Rommel the option of a cynanide capsule with the promise that Rommel’s family would remain untouched and his military pension still valid (who knew Der Fuhrer could be such a considerate guy at times?). Maybe Hillary paid up Vince’s insurance policy before handing him the revolver and pointing him to a nice quiet river bank. There seems to be no paucity of such types who willingly serve an evil queen even to an early grave.

      09/10/15 12:20 PM | Comment Link

    • StarkNakedTruth said...


      ….Or maybe the families (and perhaps friends and close associates) of those who have died due to mysterious circumstances, while either in the employ or closely connected to the Clintons…got the message.

      No monetary compensation necessary for silence?

      09/10/15 12:41 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      09/11/15 7:06 AM | Comment Link

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