Secrecy and Hillary Clinton

Over-classification of documents is the weapon of choice wielded by the U.S. government to punish  whistleblowers and keep the American people in the dark about its actions around the world. But the well-connected, like Hillary Clinton, get special forbearance, notes Diane Roark.

By Diane Roark

The system for classifying intelligence and other national security documents is broken in major respects. Increasingly, it is also manipulated to punish perceived critics or to protect agency reputations and high officials, both from adverse publicity and in the courts. Hillary Clinton’s use of a private rather than State Department email service illustrates many of these issues. Her experience stands in stark contrast to treatment of national security whistleblowers, as illustrated in particular by variance in National Security Agency (NSA) communications intelligence policies.

–Culpability. Former Secretary of State Clinton clearly and knowingly mishandled classified information. As a U.S. senator, security clearances were required for her membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee from 2003 to 2009. Therefore, she knew the rules for handling classified information before she decided, at the outset when she became Secretary of State in early 2009, to use personal rather than secure email.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Hillary and Bill Clinton had suffered many political and public relations crises. She had already run for the presidency and likely would do so again. Rules for handling classified information were ignored, the effect being to hide records that could be used against her in a second presidential run.

It simply could never be argued plausibly that for four years, a person in the highest U.S. foreign policy slot had no classified or sensitive information in any business emails that she wrote or received over 30,000 of them. This defies the definition of the job.

The State Department is a primary user and a significant generator of classified information that bears on the great majority of issues coming before the Secretary. The State Department is also a profligate designator of “Sensitive But Unclassified” information.

–Overclassification. It is widely admitted that the intelligence classification system suffers from systemic over-classification. President Barack Obama has acknowledged the problem, and one review group even stated that almost every item now labeled Confidential should be Unclassified. There is no penalty for playing it safe or playing it political by classifying at too high a level, but there are potentially severe repercussions for an individual who mistakenly classifies at too low a level, or who is known to mishandle or publicly reveal classified information.

It is most unlikely, however, that Hillary Clinton will fall victim to accusations that rely on improper over­classification. The State Department and White House, including President Obama himself, sought to protect her and to minimize the effects of her behavior.

The case is extremely high-profile, Democrats in Congress would attack any borderline classification, and a host of well­paid lawyers would rise to her defense. Improperly classified items or those deemed Sensitive but Unclassified may be redacted from publicly released documents, but it is hard to imagine that Mrs. Clinton would be falsely accused of felonies.

Whistleblowers suffer a quite different fate. Intelligence agencies easily and repeatedly retaliate for the airing of their dirty laundry by accusing the whistleblower of improperly handling or revealing allegedly classified information. The Obama administration then prosecutes them under the Espionage Act, under which altruistic motivation is irrelevant and may not even be raised in court.

Former CIA official John Kiriakou revealed on television that post ­9/11 torture was official U.S. policy, not just attributable to a few rogue agents. The CIA seethed, but the Justice Department would not prosecute. Unfortunately, Kiriakou erred in giving a reporter the business card of a man he thought had retired from CIA but was still an agent under cover. The agent’s name was not published, but CIA got its revenge when Kiriakou was indicted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1981. Left penniless with over $700,000 in legal bills even before trial, Kiriakou finally accepted a felony plea bargain and went to jail.

Thomas Drake and this author went through proper official channels in 2001­2002 to protest NSA’s surveillance of U.S. citizens. Along with colleagues Kirk Wiebe, William Binney and Edward Loomis, they also reported to the Defense Department Inspector General the waste of money on NSA modernization.

After domestic surveillance leaked to the New York Times four years later, the five became primary suspects, partly because the IG improperly offered their names to the FBI. All were raided, but no evidence was found because, as the reporter later stated publicly, he had not then met or communicated with any of the five.

Nonetheless, Drake was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for possessing five Unclassified NSA papers that NSA retroactively classified. He was threatened with 35 years in prison unless he pled guilty, but heroically resisted. Pre­trial hearings proved all the information in the documents had been declassified by NSA. After a years­old interview record was orally falsified, this author was asked to plead guilty to felony perjury, but also refused.

Section 1.7 of Executive Order 13526 governing classification stipulates that no information may be classified to conceal violations of law, inefficiency or administrative error; to prevent embarrassment; to restrain competition; or to prevent or delay release of information not requiring protection. This section is observed in the breach, as political considerations dictate.

For all the above proscribed reasons, unclassified parts of the NSA IG audit we requested are still withheld by NSA ten years after the audit was first published. Former NSA contractors Edward Snowden and John Kiriakou showed that illegal and unconstitutional activities were hidden from American citizens and others behind the veil of classification. For revealing material that never should have been classified in the first place, they are paying a very high price.

In Snowden’s case, many revelations about domestic surveillance still are treated as classified to keep them from U.S. voters, although every terrorist and every intelligence agency in the world has access to the documents and almost no ordinary person in any country of interest to the U.S. can function efficiently whilst avoiding NSA surveillance.

–Sensitive but Unclassified Material. Individual agencies claim an unsupervised right to withhold admittedly Unclassified information according to any criteria they see fit and for as long as they choose. In the Clinton email case, it is quite striking that not a word has been breathed about such Unclassified but Sensitive material. Her free pass in this respect is the envy of whistleblowers.

In our case, NSA initially refused to return any materials seized in the raids. When sued, NSA claimed that if a computer contained even one admittedly Unclassified document with material that had not been officially released by NSA, the Agency could retain and destroy the entire computer content. Courts eventually allowed NSA to keep such individual documents in their entirety and at their sole discretion, but required that others be copied and returned.

–With ordinary citizens or lower-level whistleblowers, Sensitive but Unclassified material is wielded as yet another weapon in the Executive’s arsenal of punishments. Even high­level intelligence officials have had difficulty publishing their memoirs, partly because pre­publication review agreements routinely allow an agency to withhold unclassified information.

Since the 1950s, most judges refuse to review allegedly classified or sensitive material even to determine that it does not fall under the common­sense prohibitions of Section 1.7 of the Executive Order on classification. The Executive Branch has also been famously successful in promulgating a “state secrets” doctrine to avoid or indefinitely delay court scrutiny of important civil liberties issues such as domestic surveillance. It is now known, however, that the original state secrets precedent wrongly invoked intelligence sources and methods to cover up Air Force culpability for a plane crash.

In the author’s case, even NSA’s grossly inconsistent classifications got a free pass. A document that was released to Kirk Wiebe as Unclassified was branded Top Secret Compartmented when found on the author’s computer. Confronted with this vast discrepancy, NSA alleged that it could neither confirm nor deny that the document had previously been released. It keeps no records of prior declassifications. Even in a related court case. Nor is it interested in an available system to compile and compare such records. But the judge let the classification stand.

Diane Roark retired in 2002 after 17 years on the professional staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and prior service on the National Security Council Staff, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and in the Intelligence section of the International division of the Department of Energy.


15 comments for “Secrecy and Hillary Clinton

  1. Joe Tedesky
    October 21, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Let’s face it the Clintons belong to the club, and are off limits. Although, it didn’t blow my mine that Bill was having sex in the Oval Office, what did agitate me a little, was governemtn employees not allowed (to the best of my knowledge) to have sex in a government building. Never was this brought up, but let’s see a couple lower echelon government employees get away with it, if they get caught. Then there are Hillary’s e mails. I can not get over how everyone is trying to hang her for using a personnel server. I know that is not allowed, and she should suffer the consequence as it may apply, but have you recently read any of her e mails? The e mails I have read may not be enough to prosecute her of much, but her e mails show a side of her that isn’t very pretty. One I read in regard to Libya, she was more concerned to how her Clinton Foundation donors could get rewarded with oil contracts, and refugee aid contracts…pretty disgusting isn’t it, when you consider how terrible the out come was in Libya. Lastly, I once had a chief petty officer radioman who always made a bigger deal about the unclassified messages we received. BTW this chief petty officer was an old military guy, who served in the army, air force, and the navy, and had also served in WWII. This chief petty officer said, that the unclassified messages in the wrong hands could tell the enemy a lot of what they would love to know. Example; a ship ordering heavy wool socks, could allow the enemy to know that the ship maybe heading north. Just by allowing an enemy to know what, or much of an item being taken onboard could tell them a lot about your future deployment. Hillary, will never suffer, just like Bill never really suffered much from any legal point of view, so get ready for the next president to be a woman. I would love to see the U.S. have a lady president, but not Hillary, and especially not Carly.

    • Roberto
      October 21, 2015 at 9:13 pm

      Yeah, my dad, chief petty officer on the battleship Idaho in WW2, was the same way.He was always careful about what he wrote home to my mother. She loved him for it.

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 22, 2015 at 12:16 am

        Roberto, I wonder if your chief petty officer father would have done this; when my CPO said his final good bye to me, after we received orders, and were parting separate ways, he told me something about what he had once did that startled me. He said, ‘I worried about you young man, because I thought you talked a lot, and too much’. He then informed me, how he had questioned by fellow shipmates to what I talked about when on Liberty. When my fellow shipmates told our CPO how they got me drunk, and although I never shut up, I never spoke a word about work. This confirmed to the old chief, that I could be trusted with a secret….classified, or unclassified. Then my old salt CPO, shook my hand, and told me I was a great sailor.

        Point being, all messages, correspondence, are assumed to be important based on a ‘need to know’. A unclassified message possibly stating how a port pilot will be scheduled for a ships port departure, on a certain day, does mean something to a small few some bodies, but in the wrong hands, well how would you like to have your ship have a late night rendezvous with the enemy sub. Maybe, my examples are juvenile, but my point is anything could be surmised to be secretive. On the other hand, the government always hides behind the veil of secrecy. So, any attempt to minimize Hillary’s using her own private e mail service, is only affording her with a pardon towards her own elitism. Consider how Jeff Sterling is serving prison time, while after only circumstantial evidence was produced in order to convict him. Make no mistake about it, there are two America’s.

    • October 21, 2015 at 10:35 pm

      “unclassified messages in the wrong hands could tell the enemy a lot”
      …like meta data does.

  2. October 21, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Why has nobody questioned the ‘Five Eyes’ in relation to this and other email scandals such as Lerner? They say the NSA doesn’t have this info, but their partners do.

  3. F. G. Sanford
    October 22, 2015 at 12:06 am

    Wayne Simmons is totally busted,
    And those pundits the right-wingers trusted-
    Are coming unglued but we’re still getting screwed
    By those experts and think tanks we trusted!

    Clinton’s private emails have revealed,
    Some dirt that they wanted concealed.
    Claiming Powell was duped, he would never have stooped
    To concoct what the “Blood Deal” had sealed!

    Wesley Clark outed Rummy and Dick
    With that plan, they were hoping to stick-
    Seven countries would crumble, in five years they’d tumble,
    That PeeNACk plan was pretty slick!

    But they needed to build coalition,
    That would obfuscate pre-planned volition-
    Claiming WMD’s, they could do it with ease
    By exploiting Blair’s evil ambition!

    The plans were laid out in ’02
    But they denied such a thing could be true-
    The Downing Street memo could not be a demo
    Unless Colin was in on it too!

    Poison Gas was a false flag they tried.
    Sy Hersh was just fit to be tied-
    He revealed the subversion and cast an aspersion
    On the Bin Laden myth they implied!

    O’bagy the Syrian expert
    Whose advice made John Kerry a stalwart-
    Her credentials were phony, she was Kim Kagan’s crony
    Just a Neocon agent covert!

    But the CIA said not a word
    About secrets Wayne Simmons inferred-
    In Hillary’s emails the guts and the entrails
    Render claims of denial absurd!

    Larry Wilkerson claims intel deception,
    But that needs a lukewarm reception-
    The intel was cooked while nobody looked
    It was all just a fraud from inception!

    That August 6 President’s briefing
    Was tossed off as historical leafing-
    Benavides persisted but Condi resisted
    Citing privileged Commander in Chiefing!

    Every pretext is coming apart.
    It’s been lie after lie from the start.
    Blatant vanity fair would ensnare Tony Blair,
    But ambition fills Hillary’s heart!

    Now Jeb! claims we were safe under George.
    That’s a fantasy daunting to forge-
    With Trump on the stump, though he may be a chump,
    The lies might get dumped in the gorge.

    Those memos prove one sure conclusion.
    Both parties engaged in collusion.
    There should be incitement for a treason indictment-
    But the public’s enslaved by illusion!

    Colin Powell took a proactive stance,
    Bush and Blair had it planned in advance
    If Hillary read it then she needs some credit-
    For the coverup’s clear at a glance!

    Those weapons inspectors were dubious.
    Condi swore to the truth she was telling us!
    For crying out loud there’s a big mushroom cloud-
    Can’t you see Saddam’s worse than Tiberius?

    They’re all in the same clucking flub.
    Each others backs they’ll rub-a-dub-dub.
    Campaign contribution buys sweet absolution
    But dare not say profit’s the hub!

    That airport in Mena flew crack,
    So it seemed like the Contras we’re back.
    They can classify crime so they’ll never do time-
    Clinton and Jeb! both come from the same crooked sack!

    They’re all on the same PeeNACk side,
    But the details remain classified,
    Though one thing’s for certain, that behind the curtain-
    They’re taking huge profits right out of the taxpayers’ hide!

    • Bob Van Noy
      October 22, 2015 at 12:26 am

      So true F.G.,every rhyming word!

    • dahoit
      October 24, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      And all your truths would have a great impact on the American people if the MSM ever focused on them and tried to actually inform US instead of all the Zionist propaganda that keeps the people mushrooms.
      They are the enemy,the Zionists and their minions who have stolen our govt on their insane racist greater Israel project.

  4. Zachary Smith
    October 22, 2015 at 12:09 am

    Therefore, she knew the rules for handling classified information before she decided, at the outset when she became Secretary of State in early 2009, to use personal rather than secure email.

    Hillary Clinton knew the rules, and she ignored them. Unlike the poor fellows who were prosecuted, she is getting away with it, and she knew that going in. Not only are the Clintons in the Top 1%, but they’re probably in the top 1% of THAT elite group. The rules are different for that bunch. It isn’t right, but it’s an increasingly obvious reality.

    The woman has been in the public eye for a long, long time, and she has a track record. So far as I’m concerned, it’s an ugly one.

    If Hillary is the nominee, I stay home. It would take a Huckabee or a Carson or a Cruz on the other side to tempt me to do otherwise, and fortunately they’re not likely. At some point down in the cesspool the difference between bad and worse isn’t worth sorting out.

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 22, 2015 at 1:14 am

      “The woman has been in the public eye for a long, long time, and she has a track record. So far as I’m concerned, it’s an ugly one.”

      You know Zachary, one of the things I dread the most about a Hillary presidency, is how all the news will become political yellow tabloid noise. It won’t be any better with a Jeb, either. We are doomed to a future of implications of scandal, and weak excuses of elites covering their corrupt butts, in order to retain their crowns. So, where do you suppose we could all meet on Election Day? Just kidding, but we should all come up with some bazaar write in candidate to vote for. This way we would all know we were all one, when let’s say our candidate ‘Rocky J Squirrel’ comes in election night with something like 1.3% votes. That would mean a Bull Winkle Vice Presidecy. Even with a Cruz as a presidential candidate, or some other right wing Christian schmuck running for U.S. President, please tell me you won’t vote for Hillary. A ‘No Vote’ just maybe a vote for sanity, and decency…why, it may even someday turn out to be seriously unAmerican voting for these warmonger clowns, anyway. That’s if we ever get this country turned around enough, so that we start prosecuting some of these war criminals, and make things right for once.

  5. Mia Cross
    October 23, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Emails stored on some third party servers can never be secure unless encrypted at source. Binfer does not store emails anywhere. It is a better way to send secure email. The link is

  6. Mortimer
    October 23, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    “The woman has been in the public eye for a long, long time, and she has a track record. So far as I’m concerned, it’s an ugly one.”
    The Man Who Bought the Clintons – The Political Business of Terry McAcualiffe

    • dahoit
      October 24, 2015 at 6:30 pm

      McCauliffe has the gravitas of a snail.He is a camp follower.

  7. John Kirsch
    October 27, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Our rulers need secrecy to remain in power. It isn’t that ordinary Americans — the ruled — are all that vigilant. They’re too busy trying to survive the war of all against all to pay much attention to what happens in Washington, D.C. What our rulers do fear is the shocking revelation, the revelation that would put a face on the oppression being visited daily on the ruled. Such a revelation, or series of revelations, could finally arouse the ruled against their oppressors. Thus the draconian secrecy that surrounds those who purport to do the public’s business. The ruled must not be allowed to know what is going on behind the scenes. All of this is poison to democracy, of course. And as long as this situation continues we will be very far from democracy.

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