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CONFIDENTIAL: Part two of understanding Clinton’s email scandal


Last week’s column was a primer on classified material and how it is marked. Basically, a classified message is labeled at the top and bottom with a word in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS which alerts any reader to the fact there is classified information contained within. This header is either TOP SECRET, SECRET or CONFIDENTIAL, and is the level of highest classification found later in the message. Additionally, each paragraph in the body of the message must be marked designating the highest level of classification for that particular paragraph, and that designation must be inside parentheses. These markings look like (TS), (S), (C) or (U), with that last one showing the information is UNCLASSIFIED and does not need to be protected.

The controversy arose because Hillary Clinton, while Secretary of State, did not use a computer server provided by the U.S. government. Millennials do not need an explanation of what servers are or do, but you may have to explain them to your grandparents, and we’ll see why that is important in a moment. The U.S. government has safeguards in place to insure their servers that hold classified material are protected from foreign governments, and the copper wire lines that connect them are protected as well, with different security protocols depending on the level of information that will be stored on a particular set of machines. Obviously, computer systems that can hold or transmit Top Secret information are more closely guarded than those carrying only Confidential information. In fact, back in the dark ages, you often had two computers sitting on the same desk next to each other, one carrying only Unclassified information (this system is called NIPRNET, for Non-classified Internet Protocol (IP) Router Network) and one for Classified information (SIPRNET or Secure Internet Protocol (IP) Router Network). In my last job, although my office was behind two security doors, one of which was similar to a bank vault door, we were required to remove the hard drives from the SIPRNET machines each night and lock them in a separate safe, for triply redundant security.

Hillary Clinton did not do that. Instead, she had all of her email sent to a server in the basement of her home in New York City. She had no security system to protect information she received from unauthorized disclosure and her system could have been hacked by any number of hostile organizations, from Wikileaks to the KGB. Without a doubt, that was a dumb thing to do.  

This is another paragraph you may consider deleting to meet space requirements. Clinton is not the only person in government unaware of today’s technology. In July 2016, Business Insider reported only the two newest members of the U.S. Supreme Court use email, and the editors assume the rest are unaware of how to send or receive them. In March 2015, Business Insider ran this quote from 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, “I don’t email at all … I am afraid I might email something that in retrospect I wish I hadn’t.” Sen. Lindsey Graham, who ran for president this year said the same in an interview, also from March 2015. “I don’t email,” Graham told reporter Chuck Todd. “You can have every email I’ve ever sent. I’ve never sent one.” We can debate another time the usefulness of Congress and the Supreme Court deciding issues such as net neutrality while being totally clueless on today’s technology. No matter, what Hillary Clinton did was stupid.

Why would she take such action that in retrospect seems so foolish? For over 25 years, the Clintons have been investigated by their political enemies nearly non-stop. Hillary’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, was impeached for comments he made, or didn’t make, while being investigated for sexual harassment — charges that came about when an open ended investigation with unlimited financial resources had not turned up any illegal activity in a land deal in which the Clintons lost money, or replacement workers in the White House, or the suicide of a friend. Hillary Clinton is paranoid, because people are out to get her. Having a private server helped control the information that the public could see about her activities while serving in the State Department.

What did she actually do? Congress asked the FBI to investigate Clinton’s use of this private server and they looked at 33,000 emails. The FBI acknowledged that, as Clinton testified, there were no classification markings at the top and bottom of each page, which would have definitively alerted her that she was receiving classified information. They found three emails which each had one paragraph marked (c), which means they contained Confidential material, the lowest level of classified information.  Clinton gave the excuse she thought each (c) was actually a c), indicating a paragraph in the a), b), c) system of differentiating. This seems quite lame, and one is left to wonder if this is the best answer she could give about paragraph markings, how in the world would she handle MLA and APA formatting, let alone classified material.  Additionally, when asked if her server had been, “wiped,” she replied, “Like, with a cloth?”

Keep in mind, today’s college students are the most tech savvy individuals in the world, while Mrs. Clinton, close to 70 years old, probably knows less than your grandparents.  It’s doubtful she understands the technology she is using, but she could not claim ignorance or risk losing the Millennial vote.  

Faced with a minor infraction, three Confidential paragraphs among literally millions, FBI Director James Comey declined to recommend she be prosecuted and closed the case. Clinton’s political enemies in Congress were outraged and grilled Comey for hours over the summer. They wanted to derail her presidential run, and the FBI, after spending $7 million and 120 years worth of manpower investigating her, came up with practically nothing, and would not press for an indictment for criminal activity.

What Secretary Clinton did was wrong. It was foolish. So is jaywalking, or not wearing your seat belt, or rolling through a red light at 2 a.m. instead of coming to a complete stop. However, none of these are worth a federal trial. Former military members claimed, in faux outrage, “If that had been me, I’d be in prison now.”  Well, no, you wouldn’t be. For a security breach as minor as this, you may have gotten a letter of reprimand, or possibly lost your security clearance, or perhaps even faced non-judicial punishment. To suggest that disclosure of three Confidential paragraphs would have resulted in federal prison is ridiculous hyperbole.

Clinton showed remarkably poor judgment, probably because she is technologically challenged, and when someone who works for her said, “I know how we can limit public knowledge of your email activities,” she agreed with no more knowledge than a dog has of a refrigerator. To her, a computer is a machine that does something magical. Her actions call into question her competence, but do not rise to the level of criminal activity.  The voters next month will decide if she is to be trusted again with the nation’s secrets.


Bill Delehunt can be reached at


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