Sen. Bernie Sanders received rousing applause during the first Democrat debate when he said he had heard enough about Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails.” He’s partially right: we’ve all heard enough obfuscation about the private email server. It’s time now for an honest accounting of the laws Hillary and her staff broke. To do less is to pretend she is above the law.
I had a Top Secret security clearance, read classified documents regularly, and generated many myself when I worked for the U.S. government. To do this I used the State Department’s classified communications system, so I know how it works and what can be done with it.
In my early days in the Foreign Service we were able to communicate with Washington and other embassies only by encrypted telegrams or to send typewritten documents via the diplomatic pouch. Email became available at the end of my service, but official communications could only be sent by email if they were unclassified because technicians had not worked out all the possible ways it could be intercepted by people you didn’t want to read your mail.
In my last assignment (reviewing documents for the State Department’s Freedom of Information Office) I used the classified system that has now been installed in our embassies around the world. When I first saw it, I was amazed at the safeguards. Access to the office space was strictly controlled by armed guards who stopped anyone without a photo ID, and access to my computer terminal was controlled with a complex password. Guards swept my office nightly to make sure I had locked up my papers and not written the email password on my calendar or in my desk. Finally, no outside devices could be plugged into the system nor could it connect to unclassified email — no notes to friends or even a document to a printer that was not part of the classified network.
It was impossible to plug a thumb drive into my office computer and take files off the system, which explained Hillary’s request to one of her staffers when the classified fax system was taking too long to “print the document, sanitize it (take off the classification marks), and send it via a non-secure link.” That’s probably the only way I could have gotten around the safeguards built into the system: print something on the classified printer, then sneak that paper out of the secure area and transmit it on an unclassified fax machine. Or perhaps I could have typed the text into an unclassified email and sent it outside the system. Both are felonies.
The State Department’s email system has certainly changed since I retired 20 years ago, but I doubt the physical controls have become any easier to circumvent. If anything, they have become more stringent. Hillary’s claim her acts “were not prohibited” is a lie. During her standard security in-processing she had to sign an affidavit saying she understood and accepted the restrictions. And now we’re learning her messages included Special Access Program material, the most highly restricted intelligence.
Hillary told George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” criticism of her private server is a Republican conspiracy because her messages bore no classified markings. That’s deliberate obfuscation: someone working for her stripped off the markings and she knows it. Any State Department employee doing what Hillary did would be arrested, lose their security clearance, and would be charged and tried. The fact she has not makes it clear she’s above the law, apparently with the acquiescence of the President, who has not called for an independent investigation. There’s the real conspiracy.
Fred LaSor spent nearly thirty years in the American Foreign Service. He lives now in Minden.