Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Scandal Grows

***UPDATE//12 August***

According to the Daily Beast, the information in Hillary's e-mails should have been classified TS//SI//TK//NOFORN; or if you prefer, Top Secret//Special Intelligence/Talent Keyhold//Noforn.  In other words, extremely sensitive intelligence, combining imagery and SIGINT, not releasable to foreign nationals.

I'm sure the spooks in Moscow, Beijing and elsewhere got a good laugh from that one.


It's no secret that Hillary Clinton believes that rules and regulations apply to "regular folks" and not someone of her exalted status.  The latest example of her imperial ego is on display in the festering e-mail scandal, which (from her perspective) took a turn for the worse yesterday.

McClatchy was among the first to report that two e-mails from Mrs. Clinton's private server should have been classified as "Top Secret" at the time of their transmission.  You may recall the former Secretary of State assured supporters back in March that she "never" sent or received classified material from her personal system, which was completely unsecure.  More recently, the Democrat presidential candidate has parsed that statement, saying she never "knowingly" transmitted classified information over her system.

Unfortunately for her political aspirations, the Inspectors General of the intelligence community and the State Department disagreed, discovering four classified e-mails in the initial sample of 40 they analyzed.  That finding prompted the officials to ask the FBI to look into the matter, prompting an extended debate over whether the investigation was a criminal probe.  Initially, Mrs. Clinton claimed it wasn't, generating enough pressure to force The New York Times to walk back that claim.  But a few days later, another federal source told the New York Post the probe was, in fact, a criminal investigation.

That was followed by Tuesday's revelation that two of the e-mails contained information classified at the Top Secret level.  Predictably, the feds won't go into specific details about the type of data that was discovered, but multiple reports said the messages had references to "satellite imagery" and "operational intelligence."

At this point, a small clarification is in order.  There are actually different categories of information classified at the "Top Secret" level.  "Straight" Top Secret (which does not contain compartmented intelligence data) is often found in operations plans and similar documents.  Intel information classified at the highest level is normally labeled TS/SCI, the acronym for Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information--a reference to the intelligence sources and methods used in gathering the information.   The inadvertent disclosure of TS/SCI information could cause exceptionally grave damage to national security, as described in the executive order covering the nation's information security system.  The most recent version was signed by President Obama in 2009.

But exactly what was in those e-mails that warranted the Top Secret classification (or more correctly, TS/SCI)?  The possibilities will raise a few more eyebrows, for various reasons.  Consider that reference to satellite imagery.  Many Americans who've never held a security clearance or worked with intelligence data assume that images from our "eyes in the sky" represent the crown jewels of our intel community, allowing us to read a license plate or identify a particular terrorist from low earth orbit.

Truth is, the quality--and classification--of imagery intel (or IMINT) depends on a variety of factors, including the sensor type, image resolution and whether the report is "fused" with other types of intel data.   Other elements may affect classification as well; if the data was gathered through a particularly sensitive collection effort, it may fall under a Special Access Program (SAP), which further restricts its release.  During my spook days, I remember one imagery program that required those "read in" to access the information in a special vault, inside a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF).

So far, there is no firm evidence to indicate Mrs. Clinton's Top Secret e-mails contained data from a SAP program.  But it is also worth noting that much of our imagery "haul" is classified at the collateral level (Secret) and readily shared with our "Five Eyes" partners.  Apparently, the IMINT information found in those e-mails was not a routine summary based on electro-optical intelligence.

Likewise, there is a certain amount of intrigue regarding the "operational intelligence" cited by the inspectors general.  Operational intelligence is traditionally defined as the information needed to plan and execute military campaigns.  That raises the obvious question of which campaign was being discussed in the e-mail(s); at a minimum, our adversaries likely gained new insights into our military planning and preparation, allowing them to adjust their own strategies.  And once again, the information was extremely sensitive, as indicated by the TS/SCI classification.

In response, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Clinton urged supporters to remain calm.  "There's a lot of misinformation so bear with us," wrote Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri in an e-mail. "There's a lot of misinformation, so bear with us.  The truth matters on this."

Indeed it does, and based on the evidence at hand, most of the "misinformation" (so far) has come from the Clinton camp.  It's quite a journey from assuring the public that no classified information was sent on her private e-mail system, to suggesting it was not done "knowingly," and--barely a week after that statement--agreeing to turn her server over to the FBI.

The Clintons have made a career by wiggling out of various scandals, but it's hard to see how Hillary escapes this one.  Suggestions that the real issue is proper classification markings have been met with howls of laughter by anyone remotely familiar with the handling of sensitive material.  If the e-mails weren't properly marked, it's because the classification was deliberately left off, so classified data could be sent over Mrs. Clinton's unclassified system.

It is a crime to deliberately place classified information on a network that is not cleared for that level of security.  That appears to be exactly what happened as information was exchanged on her network.  As we suggested previously, it is more likely that data from classified reports was paraphrased and re-written in the referenced e-mails.  That's one reason it took the inspectors general several weeks to determine the messages were classified at the time or origin; they had to compare the e-mails with intel reports on similar topics at the time and literally compare them word-for-word.

That process is certainly continuing and it is likely to bring more revelations of classified information on the server--messages that were almost certainly intercepted and read by various foreign intelligence  services.

Just a few weeks ago, former CIA Director David Petraeus stood before a federal judge in Charlotte and was sentenced for mishandling classified information.  As the FBI discovered, the retired Army general shared classified materials with Paula Broadwell, his girlfriend/biographer.  For his crimes, Petraeus was given probation and a $100,000 fine.  Lower-ranking officials have often received prison time for divulging classified information to unauthorized individuals.

As the scandal grows, it is easy to see many of Mrs. Clinton's aides facing a similar fate.  The former Secretary of State will never see the inside of a prison cell, but those classified e-mails will be more than enough to end her presidential bid.


The Petraeus case has one interesting connection to Hillary Clinton's troubles.  The Democratic presidential candidate is being represented by her long-time counsel, David Kendall, the same Washington super lawyer who defended her husband during his the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  He was also General Petraeus's attorney during his recent legal woes.

As Mrs. Clinton began to adjust her e-mail narrative, Kendall told authorities he had possession of a thumb drive containing copies of her e-mails.  Now, with the recent admission that some of those messages contained TS/SCI-level information, could Mr. Kendall be facing legal problems?  Unless his law office is located in a SCIF, the thumb drive entrusted to him was improperly stored.   For that reason alone, he was probably glad to surrender the drive to the FBI.                 

1 comment:

Pooka said...

All of us who's had clearances through the years know a few things the public doesn't:
- We all signed nondisclosure statements saying we understood the penalties of improper handling of classified material.
- We all took annual, painful training on how to handle classified materials.
- NIPRNET (unclassified) neworks can't touch SIPRNET (Secret) networks; TS networks can't touch either of the others. Not that screwups don't occur - I once opened my NIPRNET account & found a Secret email. I didn't touch anything else & went straight to the LAN manager to get it corrected & was lucky they did have to wipe clean my hard drive.
- Finding UNCLASS, SECERET & TS/SCI on the same drive means you contravented all the rules and your rightful residence is in Leavenworth.