As the media continues to highlight the fact that “several dozen” of the 30,000 private server emails Hillary Clinton handed over to federal officials were found to contain classified information, an investigation of State Department documents by the Associated Press (AP) points to evidence that the practice of communicating sensitive national and international secrets over an unsecure email system is part of “State Department culture.”
According to AP, the U.S. Department of State only checks the contents of personnel email for confidential information when screening for a public records request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Using the request law, the multinational news agency reviewed State Department emails dating back to Condoleeza Rice’s tenure as Secretary which communicated state secrets.
For example, an email from a U.S. diplomat in China in December 2006 contained the text of confidential cable from Beijing which relayed information about Iran and other Chinese government business.
In all, five State emails from Secretary Rice’s tenure were found to contain classified information.
While such a record may seem innocuous to the average American, the State Department uses an “unclassified” email server which had been hacked by Russian intelligence agents regularly between mid-2014, and early-2015.
In fact, according to Leslie McAdoo, a security clearance lawyer in Washington, D.C., the use of classified information in ‘unflagged’ email messages is “very common”.
Classification expert Steven Aftergood responded to AP’s findings by commenting that “if there is routine security screening and monitoring of incoming and outgoing State Department emails, anything that is classified should have been flagged. That does not seem to have happened.”
Indeed, none of the “several dozen” classified emails that Secretary Clinton received during her tenure were designated as such at the time.
For example, the night of the Benghazi attack a diplomat reported that the CIA annex was under siege, but no flag was sent up to alert the recipient that the information contained within was sensitive – the very existence of the building was not public knowledge.
Despite the inefficiencies of the State Department’s email system, officials there have access to a secure messaging program for “secret” and “top secret” information, but it is rarely used.
As for Hillary Clinton specifically, evidence suggests that she, or at the least those who sent her sensitive information, were aware of the security risks as secure phone and fax lines were also frequently used to communicate between the Secretary and her aides.
The Hillary Clinton – private server saga is far from over, but as of now it seems she has a pretty reliable excuse if any more “top secret” emails are found on her own ‘unsecure’ system.