Not Just Hillary: State Department As A Whole Pretty Careless With Handling Of Classified Communications

from the but-we-swore-we-thought-no-one-would-find-out! dept

It may be that Hillary Clinton was the only State Department employee proactive enough to set up her own email server, but she's hardly the only one to use insecure channels to route classified information. Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times reports classified communications routinely traveled through the State Department's unclassified system.

A review of the 30,322 emails from Mrs. Clinton’s private server that the State Department has made public under the Freedom of Information Act provides an extensive record of how such sensitive information often looped throughout President Obama’s foreign policy apparatus on unclassified systems, from embassies to the United Nations to the White House.

The senders included Denis R. McDonough, currently the White House chief of staff and previously the deputy national security adviser, and Susan E. Rice, the former American representative at the United Nations who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.

Many of the emails were sent over the State Department’s unclassified system, state.gov, which is considered secure but not at the level of the State Department’s system for emailing classified information.
In their defense, State Department officials say they often can't control how classified communications will be routed. After all, they have no control over receipt of messages from foreign government officials that might be considered classified. And they routinely use other insecure channels to communicate, like normal phone systems.

For that matter, it's difficult to determine what the government will consider classified at the point the communications are sent and received. In the case of Clinton's emails, the investigation (which James Comey recently confirmed is an investigation, not a "security inquiry" as Clinton has portrayed it) and response to FOIA requests have prompted an after-the-fact classification review of State Dept. communications contained in the FOIA response.
Of the 30,322 emails made public, 2,028 have had portions redacted and are now classified at the lowest level of classification, “confidential.”

[...]

In 18 emails, for example, information has been classified on the grounds that it identifies C.I.A. officials, including two instances that are now considered “secret.”

One of those was a seemingly benign photo opportunity listed on Mrs. Clinton’s daily schedule, with the person who gave her a daily intelligence briefing, making it obvious that the person was an agency employee.

That email was originally released as “confidential” but upgraded to “secret,” probably reflecting that the person holds an undercover position now.
It's not as though Clinton and others are blameless in their mishandling of classified information, but there are definitely some areas of the communications process that are entirely out of their hands. Other government agencies stepping in to add layers of classification to communications that once seemed innocuous enough to handle on insecure channels does little to mitigate the appearance of impropriety.

That being said, there's still plenty of digital blood on the hands of State Department officials when it comes to treating sensitive information insensitively. Communications that traveled across the State Department's less-secure channels apparently included discussions of the CIA's drone strike program, Palestine-UN communications about the country's bid for statehood and, ironically enough, conversations about how to handle the security details related to General Petraeus' sudden resignation following his own mishandling of classified information.

But the overall impression left by the review of the released emails shows the agency is willing to use less secure channels if it makes communications easier to facilitate -- even if this presents a greater risk of these communications being intercepted or obtained by hackers. And it's apparently considered acceptable -- right up to the point a server is hacked or a top official is spotted running their own email server.

Filed Under: classified information, emails, hillary clinton, state department


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  1. identicon
    tuesday, 20 May 2016 @ 1:01pm

    Re: very nice wording

    I read "proactive enough' as sarcastic.

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