The news is once again filled with coverage of the great Hillary Clinton email scandal. Most of it is, as usual, contradictory and confusing. The partisans have taken their stands. There is a lot of smoke and very little illumination.
Let's try then to break this down to some simple, common sense principles. Let's try to get to some brass tacks.
First, there is no such thing as a public official using his or her own personal email account or server for official correspondence. It is not done. Ever. Period. Full stop.
I was a US Army officer. I spent twenty years in the CIA. I continue to work with the Intelligence Community to this day. I have worked with and corresponded with the Department of State, half the US embassies on the planet, DOD, every intelligence agency we have and a host of other federal entities. In thirty years, prior to the Hillary email issue surfacing, I never even heard of anyone doing anything like this. It is not done. It is in violation of probably a thousand different regulations and security procedures. You don't join the Navy and tell them you brought your own boat. You don't join the police force and announce you designed your own uniform.
It does not happen. That Hillary Clinton even thought you could operate in such a fashion is breath taking. That the responsible security and communications personnel at State allowed her to do it, regardless of her grade, is very disturbing. Somewhere along the line somebody should have had the guts to stand up and say "NO".
Second, the classification and sensitivity of a communication are not determined by the code words and other markings I put on it. If I type up a summary of the key design principles for American nuclear weapons, decide against marking it as classified and send it out on the Internet, that's not ok. The information is still classified. I have handled it improperly. I am guilty of a host of criminal offenses.
One of the primary targets of hostile intelligence services is information related to the plans and intentions of senior US government officials. If the United States moves a carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf half the planet knows it. What almost no one knows is what we intend to do next.
In order to ferret that out, spies focus on all sorts of indicators. Has the President cancelled his meetings for the day and scheduled a meeting with the Joint Chiefs? Is he leaving town for the weekend or is he staying at the White House? Is the First Lady calling her family and complaining about the number of hours her husband has been working this week?
This is not information of marginal interest to a handful of obscure analysts. This is the stuff that gets briefed to heads of state in the early morning hours when the fate of nations hangs in the balance. Sure Putin has his troops massed on the border but where is he? Did he meet with his key military advisors until the wee hours of the morning or is he home in bed and talking about a long overdue vacation? What's his schedule for today? What's on his mind? Does he look and smell like a man getting ready to go to war or does everything suggest that he is following his normal routine?
A President is not the only target of such collection. Any senior government official is. That would include, most certainly, the Secretary of State. In other words, almost everything about Hillary Clinton's daily routine and activities while Secretary of State would have been of intense interest to hostile intelligence services. Did she work late? Did she leave early? Who was she meeting with? When? How often was she seeing the President? Was she depressed? Was she detached?
All of this information would, in other words, have been information that should have been considered sensitive and should have been protected.
Seen through that lens, it is, therefore, hard to imagine what correspondence related to her official duties Secretary Clinton could have possibly been properly sending on any unclassified system, much less one of her own devising and run off a server at a private, unsecured location. In point of fact, probably every message she sent while Secretary of State that had even the remotest connection to her work at State should have been sent out with some level of classification.
The press has announced recently that several messages on Hillary's do-it-yourself communications system actually contained classified material. All that means is that it has been demonstrated that material from other agencies, already properly classified, had been taken off a classified system and improperly put on an unclassified one. That's the beginning of the revelations not the end.
I suspect that an objective review of what's in Hillary's emails will show that there are boatloads of messages containing information that should never have been outside classified channels in the first place. I suspect that we will find that we have suffered a breach of classified material on a scale to dwarf that for which General Petraeus was tried and for which John Kiriakou was sent to prison.
I suspect all we have seen so far is the tip of the iceberg.