from the defining-'classified'-like-a-group-of-blind-men-describing-an-elephant dept
How do we know whether information is classified? Well, because the government tells us it is. But what does that mean? It turns out it means whatever the government wants it to mean, subject to time, place, personnel involved, etc.
Classified material handed over to movie producers by Leon Panetta? Probably not a big deal. Classified material handed over to journalists by whistleblowers? That's a prosecutin'.
No one explains this slippery approach to classification better than President Obama, who was gamely trying to answer questions about an ongoing investigation (Hillary Clinton and her famous emails) during an interview with Fox News.
“There’s classified, and then there’s classified,” the president said.That clears everything up. Clinton sent, received and stored classified info on a private email server. This cannot be disputed. But some classified info is more equal than others. It all depends on who has it and how the current administration feels about that person.
It's also about how the current administration feels about whistleblowers. It doesn't like them. So, Clinton playing fast and loose with classified info is subject to an entirely different standard than the large number of whistleblowers the Obama administration has prosecuted over the years.
Obama, again, digs deep into his feels to provide a technical explanation of this dichotomy.
President Obama said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that while Hillary Clinton had been careless in managing her emails as secretary of state, she would never intentionally do anything to endanger the country.I believe this is true. Hillary Clinton does love this country -- or at least the part of its she's intimately familiar with: the highly-insulated Beltway interior. She certainly would never do anything intentionally to harm her position of power or her chances of a November promotion. We can tell how much she wants to keep the country safe by how much effort she's put into keeping her communications out of the hands of the public. This is the Administration Way. There's nothing more dangerous to the US government than transparency and accountability. Clinton knows this. Obama definitely knows this.
The problem is, as Trevor Timm points out, violating the Espionage Act doesn't require an intent to harm. Handling classified material carelessly can open one up to charges… provided you're not part of the government's inner circle.
Obama's interview also explained why government agencies redact or withhold information already in the public domain. It all traces back to "classified" being an almost-entirely subjective term when deployed by the government.
“There’s stuff that is really top-secret top-secret, and there’s stuff that is being presented to the president or the secretary of state that you might not want on the transom, or going out over the wire, but is basically stuff that you could get in open-source.”Classification: all things to all people, as long as it allows officials and agencies to control narratives and disrupt public accountability. No matter what the FBI concludes from its investigation into Hillary Clinton, Obama has already granted her a pardon.