top secret level emails

September 13, 2019 – State Department concludes Clinton email review and finds nearly 600 security violations

(Credit: Brendon Smialkowski/Agence France Press/Getty Images)

“State Department investigators probing Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state discovered nearly 600 security incidents that violated agency policy, according to a report the Daily Caller News Foundation obtained.

The investigation, conducted by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, found 38 individuals were culpable for 91 security violations. Another 497 violations were found, but no individuals were found culpable in those incidents.

The investigation concluded Sept. 6, and the report was issued Sept. 13.

(…) The FBI determined that thousands of the emails on Clinton’s server contained some level of classified information. Some of those emails were found to have information classified as top secret, the highest level of classification.

State Department investigators reviewed all of Clinton’s emails, obtained hundreds of statements, and conducted dozens of in-person interviews with current and former State Department officials, according to the report.

Investigators determined personal email use to conduct official State Department business “represented an increased risk of unauthorized disclosure.” Clinton’s use of the private server “added an increased degree of risk of compromise as a private system lacks the network monitoring and intrusion detection capabilities of State Department networks,” the report stated.

Investigators said there was “no persuasive evidence” of “systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”

One reason that investigators were unable to assign culpability in the 497 incidents was because of the duration of the investigation. Many of the subjects of the probe, including Clinton and her circle of aides, has left the State Department by the time the investigation began.” (Read more: The Daily Caller, 10/18/2019)  (Archive)

The US intelligence community has declined to conduct a required damage assessment caused by the classified information on Clinton’s private email server.

Joel Melstad, spokesperson for the of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), says, “ODNI is not leading an [intelligence community]-wide damage assessment and is not aware of any individual IC element conducting such formal assessments.”

Most of the above “top secret” emails sent or received on Clinton’s server related to the US drone program in Pakistan. According to the Washington Free Beacon, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “agreed with security officials who argued against the need to carry out the damage assessment. Intelligence officials argued in internal discussions that since many details of the drone missile program targeting terrorists were disclosed in earlier leaks unrelated to Clinton’s use of a personal email server, gauging the damage done by her conduct would be difficult, and possibly unnecessary.”

However, “Other officials said Clapper’s decision appeared based on political considerations and was an effort to avoid embroiling American intelligence agencies in charges they were attempting to influence the outcome of Clinton’s bid for the White House.”

Representative Mike Pompeo (Credit: Politico)

Representative Mike Pompeo (Credit: Politico)

A June 2014 counterintelligence directive, ICD-732, states that “damage assessments shall be conducted when there is an actual or suspected unauthorized disclosure or compromise of classified national intelligence that may cause damage to US national security.”

Representative Mike Pompeo (R) says, “FBI Director [James] Comey has made clear that there was highly classified and sensitive information on Secretary Clinton’s personal server. It is imperative that [a damage assessment] be conducted to determine what harm to American national security may have occurred and, just as importantly, to prevent the massive mishandling of sensitive materials from ever happening again.”

Angelo Codevilla (Credit: public domain)

Angelo Codevilla (Credit: public domain)

Angelo Codevilla, a former US intelligence officer, says, “Common sense, the intelligence community’s standard practice, as well as a 2014 directive, require assessing the damage done by any such compromise.” She also asserts that Comey’s “vague and evasive” comments regarding Clinton’s handling of classified information confirm that a significant number of secrets were compromised.

Michelle VanCleave (Credit: public domain)

Michelle Van Cleave (Credit: public domain)

Michelle Van Cleave, a former national counterintelligence executive, similarly asserts, “Whenever there is a significant compromise of national security information, as the FBI’s report confirms happened here, it is essential to conduct an assessment of the damage in order to protect plans, programs, or lives that may be at risk.” There have been reports that Clinton’s emails revealed the names of some undercover CIA officers as well.

Kenneth deGraffenreid (Credit: The Institute of World Politics)

Kenneth deGraffenreid (Credit: The Institute of World Politics)

Kenneth deGraffenreid, a former deputy national counterintelligence executive, says, “Intelligence agencies hate conducting damage assessments that could show people that somebody did something wrong, or improper, or did it poorly. They never want that known. It’s a bureaucracy that does one thing: protects itself.”

He says Congress should force the intelligence community to conduct the damage assessment, since it will find no political advantage in doing it voluntarily.

However, the Free Beacon reports, “Congressional sources said the House and Senate intelligence oversight committee are reluctant to require the damage assessment since it would codify in writing the false claim that no damage was caused to the drone program by the compromise of secrets by Clinton and her aides.” (The Washington Free Beacon, 9/14/2016)

September 6, 2016 – Hillary compromised classified materials representing the full range of American espionage: human intelligence, signals intelligence, and imagery intelligence

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is introduced during a campaign stop Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Rochester, N.H. ((Credit: /Matt Rourke/The Associated Press))

(…) “Hillary compromised classified materials representing the full range of American espionage: human intelligence or HUMINT from CIA, signals intelligence or SIGINT from NSA, and imagery intelligence or IMINT from NGA.

Of those 81 classified email chains, the FBI assessed that 37 of them included Secret information while eight included Top Secret information. Worse, seven email chains included Special Access Program or SAP information, which is tightly protected by the Intelligence Community and shared on a restricted, need-to-know basis only.

Three more email chains contained Sensitive Compartmented Information or SCI, which was almost certainly SIGINT from NSA. SCI always requires special protection and handling. In fact, you’re only allowed to access it inside a specially-built Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a SCIF (pronounced “skiff”) in spy-speak. Any exposure of SCI brings severe penalties—at least if you’re not named Clinton.

It’s nice to see the FBI finally confirm just how much highly classified information got exposed here, but I reported this many months ago from Intelligence Community sources, including that Hillary’s “unclassified” emails included Top Secret SAP information from CIA and Top Secret SCI information from NSA.

Which leads to a troubling matter: What the FBI did not mention in its big data dump on EmailGate.

As I told you in this column back in January, Hillary emails included very highly classified intelligence from NSA. In early June 2011, the secretary of state received a long email from her longtime friend and factotum Sid Blumenthal regarding Sudan. This was an astonishingly detailed assessment of high-level political and military machinations in that country, specifically inside information about coup plotting.

This explosive information was timely and deep in the weeds on Sudanese happenings. It’s difficult to see how Blumenthal—a lawyer and Washington fixer, no sort of Africa hand or James Bond—got his hands on such juicy intelligence. As I’ve noted, “Blumenthal’s information came from a top-ranking source with direct access to Sudan’s top military and intelligence officials, and recounted a high-level meeting that had taken place only 24 hours before.” How did Sid obtain this amazing scoop for Hillary?

If Hillary Clinton becomes our next president, we can be certain that her trusty sidekick Sid Blumenthal will have an important role in her White House.

Not to mention that, in terms of verbiage and format, Blumenthal’s email read exactly like classified NSA reporting, as anybody acquainted with our SIGINT would immediately recognize. As one veteran agency official told me back in January, Blumenthal’s email was NSA information with “at least 90 percent confidence.”

Which was no coincidence, since an NSA investigation subsequently determined that Blumenthal’s Sudan assessment was derived from their reporting—in some cases, verbatim.  As I reported in March, NSA concluded that Blumenthal’s Sudan report came from four different agency SIGINT reports, all classified Top Secret/SCI. Then it got worse:

At least one of those reports was issued under the GAMMA compartment, which is an NSA handling caveat that is applied to extraordinarily sensitive information (for instance, decrypted conversations between top foreign leadership, as this was). GAMMA is properly viewed as a SIGINT Special Access Program, or SAP, several of which Clinton compromised in another series of her “unclassified” emails.

NSA had no doubt that Blumenthal somehow got his hands on some of their “crown jewels” information. “It’s word-for-word, verbatim copying,” an agency official of them explained. “In one case, an entire paragraph was lifted from an NSA report” that was classified Top Secret/SCI. To add to the mystery, Sid emailed Hillary his “personal” assessment on Sudan only hours after some of those classified NSA reports were issued.

Somehow Sid Blumenthal—who in 2011 was not working for the U.S. government in any capacity and had not held security clearances in a decade—was reading above-top-secret NSA reports just hours after they appeared in tightly restricted GAMMA channels.” (Read more: The Observer, 9/06/16)

The FBI concludes Clinton contributed to discussions in 11 email chains, including four at the above top secret level.

A FBI report released on this day will mention: “The FBI investigation determined Clinton contributed to discussions in four email chains classified as ‘confidential’, three email chains classified as ‘secret’/NOFORN, and four email chains classified as ‘top secret’/ SAP.” (“SAP” stands for “Special Access Programs.”)

However, FBI classification is wildly different from State Department classification when it comes to “confidential” emails, with the FBI deeming 36 email chains of around 100 emails or less classified at that level, compared to the State Department deeming 2,028 individual emails classified at that level.

Furthermore, the FBI puts emails where Clinton asked aides to print out emails as different from replies that added to discussions. The FBI identified 67 times where Clinton forwarded emails for printing at either the “confidential” or “secret” levels. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

A snippet from the graphic created by the Washington Post. (Credit: Washington Post)

A snippet from a graphic created by the Washington Post, indicating the number of emails written by Clinton that were deemed classified. (Credit: Washington Post)

By contrast, a March 2016 Washington Post analysis concluded that 104 of all the emails deemed classified were written by Clinton. Presumably, they used the State Department definition of which ones were classified (since it was the only one publicly available at the time), and they were measuring individual emails instead of email chains. Furthermore,  the Post noted that at least some of Clinton’s comments were deemed classified in three-fourths of these 104 emails, so presumably these were not emails where she just asked fo print-outs. (The Washington Post, 3/5/2016)

The FBI provides statistics on the number of Clinton’s classified emails, but those numbers diverge wildly from the State Department’s numbers.

The FBI Clinton email investigation’s final report, released on this day, details how many of Clinton’s emails were deemed classified, and when, and at what level. This data is according to FBI and Intelligence Community (IC) classification reviews, which is different from a State Department review mentioned below:

  • 81 email chains containing approximately 193 individual emails were classified at the “confidential,” “secret,” and “top secret” levels at the time the emails were drafted on unclassified systems and sent to or from Clinton’s personal server.
  • Of the 81 email chains classified at the time they were sent, 68 remain classified.
  • Twelve of these email chains, classified at the “confidential” or “secret” levels, were not included in the over 30,000 emails turned over by Clinton in December 2014. Apparently, no “top secret” emails were in this category.
  • Thirty-six of the 81 email chains were classified at the “confidential” level.
  • Thirty-seven of the chains were at the “secret” level.
  • Eight of the chains were at the “top secret” level.
  • Out of the eight “top secret” chains, seven chains contained information associated with a Special Access Program (SAP), and three email chains contained Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). One “top secret”/SCI email was later downgraded to a current classification of “secret.”
  • Thirty-six of the 81 classified email chains were determined to be Not-Releasable to Foreign Governments (NOFORN) and 2 were considered releasable only to Five Allied partners (FVEY) – the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
  • Sixteen of the email chains, classified at the time the emails were sent, were downgraded in current classification by Intelligence Community (IC) agencies.
  • By contrast, the State Department’s FOIA process identified 2,028 emails currently at the “confidential” level and 65 currently at the “secret” level, for a total of 2093 emails.

The FBI report further notes: “Of these emails, FBI investigation identified approximately 100 emails that overlapped with the 193 emails (80 email chains) determined through the FBI classification review to be classified at the time sent. All except one of the remaining 2,093 emails were determined by the State FOIA process to be ‘confidential’, with one email determined to be ‘secret’ at the time of the FOIA review. State did not provide a determination as to whether the 2,093 emails were classified at the time they were sent.”

It is unclear why the FBI and IC numbers are so different from the State Department numbers when it comes to “confidential” level emails. The FBI and IC identified 36 of the 81 email chains were classified at the “confidential” level, while the State Department identified 2,028 emails at the “confidential” level. And while one cannot compare email chains to emails, all 81 classified emails chains only contained 193 individual emails, so the 36 “confidential” chains must contain fewer emails than that.

Furthermore, the FBI found an additional 17,000 emails to the over 30,000 work-related emails Clinton gave to the State Department, and it appears these largely haven’t been analyzed. It hasn’t even been reported how many of them are work-related. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

The FBI’s Clinton email investigation final report and its summary of her FBI interview are released.

The FBI’s 47-page final report on its Clinton email investigation and the FBI’s 11-page summary of its July 2016 interview with Clinton are publicly released. However, both are heavily redacted. The last third of the final report is entirely redacted.

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A Secret Service agent stands guard while two other agents close a gate after a Secret Service vehicle arrived at the home of Clinton in Washington, DC, July 2, 2016. (Credit: Cliff Owen / The Associated Press)

The Washington Post notes, “Ordinarily internal documents from FBI investigations are not made public. However, [FBI Director James] Comey has said the unusually high profile case warranted more robust public disclosures than is standard.”

It is believed both reports were finished just prior to when Comey gave a public speech on July 5, 2016, stating that he wouldn’t recommend any indictments in this case. Clinton’s interview occurred only three days prior to this.

The New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other newspapers make the release of the two documents the main headline.

The Post comments, “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staffers employed an informal and sometimes haphazard system for exchanging and storing sensitive information and were at times either unaware or unconcerned with State Department policy…” (The Washington Post, 9/2/2016)

The Times comments: “The documents provided a number of new details about Mrs. Clinton’s private server, including what appeared to be a frantic effort by a computer specialist to delete an archive of her emails even after a congressional committee had requested that they be preserved.”

This is a reference to the revelation that Platte River Networks (PRN) employee Paul Combetta confessed to deleting and then wiping all of Clinton’s emails off her server in late March 2015, despite him being aware of a Congressional order to preserve them. This had been entirely unknown prior to the publication of the report. (The New York Times, 9/2/2016)

The following are other key findings in the FBI documents, as pointed out by the Times or the Post:

A snippet from the FBI report released on September 2, 2016. (Credit: public domain)

A snippet from the FBI report released on September 2, 2016. (Credit: public domain) The opening paragraph of the FBI’s summary on Clinton’s interview, released on September 2, 2016. (Credit: public domain)

  • Clinton defended her handling of the private server by repeatedly saying that she deferred to the judgment of her aides.
  • She regarded emails containing classified discussions about planned drone strikes as “routine.” (In fact, such discussions make up most of her “top secret” emails.)
  • She said she did not recall receiving any emails “she thought should not be on an unclassified system.” Furthermore, she “could not recall anyone raising concerns with her regarding the sensitivity of the information she received at her email address.” (In fact, she sent or received over 2,000 emails later deemed classified, including at least 22 at the “top secret” level.)
  • She emailed Colin Powell a day after she was sworn into office to ask him about his use of a personal email account when he was secretary of state. Powell warned her to “be very careful” because if she used her BlackBerry for official business, those emails could become “official record[s] and subject to the law.”
  • Some of her closest aides were aware she used a private email address but didn’t know she had set up a private server. (However, this is actually contradicted by other evidence.)

The front page of the FBI’s final report, released on July 2, 2016. (Credit: public domain)

  • She regularly brought her BlackBerry into a secure area near her office where it was prohibited, according to three of her aides. However, one aide said it was only stored there, not used.
  • She used 13 BlackBerrys to send emails. The FBI was unable to recover any of them. Two aides said “the whereabouts of Clinton’s devices would frequently become unknown once she transitioned to a new device.”
  • One aide recalled two occasions “where he destroyed Clinton’s old mobile devices by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer.” (The New York Times, 9/2/2016) (The New York Times, 9/2/2016)
  • The FBI wrote that “investigative limitations, including the FBI’s inability to obtain all mobile devices and various computer components associated with Clinton’s personal email systems, prevented the FBI from conclusively determining” whether her emails had been successfully hacked.
  • Shortly after she left office, a laptop was made to contain back-up copies of all her emails. However, it got lost in transit.
  • According to the Post, Clinton claimed she “did not know much about how the government classified information. For instance, she said she did not pay attention to the difference between levels of classification, like ‘top secret’ and ‘secret,’ indicating she took ‘all classified information seriously.'” And when she was shown an email with the (C) marking, which is commonly used by the department to indicate classified information, she didn’t recognize the marking.
  • The Post also notes, “she repeatedly told agents she could not recall important details or specific emails she was questioned about.” (The Washington Post, 9/2/2016)

More details of Clinton’s twenty-two “top secret” emails are revealed; nine were written by Clinton and most of the rest were written by her aide Jake Sullivan.

As part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by Vice News reporter Jason Leopold, the State Department reveals more information about seven chains of 22 “top secret” emails involving Clinton. (Curiously, FBI Director James Comey mentioned on July 5, 2016 that there actually were eight “top secret” email chains, but the eighth chain is not mentioned by the department.)

The contents of the emails remain totally classified, but previous media reports indicate that most of them discussed approval for covert CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, and some of them may have identified CIA operatives working undercover.

160722VaughnIndex

A sample of the Vaughn Index form submitted by the State Department, in response to the Vice News Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. (Credit: public domain)

For the first time, the department reveals which years the emails were sent and who sent and received them. All the emails were from 2011 or 2012 – the State Department began to have a say in approving CIA drone strikes in 2011. Nine of the emails were written by Clinton, and the other thirteen were written by her aide Jake Sullivan. Two were also cc’d by Sullivan to her chief of staff Cheryl Mills and/or Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

The State Department disclosure comes in the form of a “Vaughn Index,” which is a document used by government departments in FOIA lawsuits to justify the withholding of information under various FOIA exemptions. Vaughn Indexes contain at least some information about the withheld text, to justify keeping it redacted, but this one does not. Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, says that according to government regulations, “State’s document does not fulfill the requirements for a Vaughn index.” (Vice News, 7/22/2016) (The Hill, 7/22/2016)

A former NSA official says what Clinton’s emails revealed about NSA collection methods caused “much worse” damage than leaks from Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning or any other whistleblowers.

Former technical director of the National Security Agency (NSA) William Binney (Credit: Democracy Now)

Former technical director of the National Security Agency (NSA) William Binney (Credit: Democracy Now)

William Binney is a former NSA official who was harassed by the US government for several years for blowing the whistle on a wasteful NSA program. (McClatchy Newspapers, 9/29/2015)

Binney worked at the NSA for 36 years, reaching the position of senior technical director and managing 6,000 employees. He believes Clinton’s poor email security has been “devastating” for US national security due to the revelation of some intelligence collection methods. (Washingtonsblog.com, 7/7/2016)

Binney points in particular to an email sent to Clinton by her confidant Sid Blumenthal on June 8, 2011. It mentioned conversations by rebel generals in Sudan that had taken place less than 24 hours earlier. (US Department of State, 1/6/2016)

This email revealed details of NSA collection abilities, and was based on four NSA reports, all of them classified at the “top secret / special intelligence” (TSSI) level, including at least one issued under the GAMMA compartment, which is an NSA handling code for extraordinarily sensitive information, such as decrypted conversations between top foreign leaders. (The New York Observer, 3/18/2016)

Binney concludes, “All in all, this is a rather devastating compromise of technical capability and a commensurate loss of high value intelligence. … In my view, this is much worse than what Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning or any of the other whistleblowers have done. Some are in prison for as many as 35 years. Others have just been ruined and kept from getting anything but menial jobs. But, those in high positions get a pass for much worse offenses.” (Washingtonsblog.com, 7/7/2016)

The FBI says Clinton both sent and received emails in seven above “top secret” email chains.

Although FBI Director James Comey announces he will not recommend an indictment of Clinton, comments in his public speech reveal information that could be very politically damaging for Clinton. It was previously known that Clinton’s emails contained 22 “top secret” emails in seven different email chains. However, Comey reveals, “Those chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending and receiving emails about those same matters.”

This contradicts previous news reports that Clinton had only been the recipient of “top secret” emails. Comey also says that seven email chains contain “top secret / special access program” (TP/SAP) information, which is above top secret, plus one more previously unknown email chain at the “top secret” level. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)

The New York Times notes, “Those emails have been widely reported to include information about the Central Intelligence Agency’s program to use drones to track and kill terrorism suspects. … Only a small number of officials are allowed access to those programs, which are the nation’s most sensitive intelligence operations.”

Another 36 chains were “secret,” which means it includes information that “could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.” Eight more chains had information classified at the “confidential” level.

The Times comments that Comey’s speech “was, arguably, the worst possible good news Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign could have hoped for: no criminal charges, but a pointed refutation of statements like one she flatly made last August,” when she said, “I did not send classified material.” (The New York Times, 7/5/2016) (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)

It appears Clinton’s emails include 29 at the “top secret” level, instead of the widely reported 22.

Representative Chris Stewart (Credit: public domain)

Representative Chris Stewart (Credit: public domain)

In his public speech ending the FBI’s Clinton investigation, FBI Director James Comey mentions Clinton’s emails contained eight chains containing “top secret’ information, instead of the previously reported seven chains of 22 emails. The New York Times reports that it is “not immediately clear what subject the eighth chain Mr. Comey cited involved, but his statement means that more than 22 emails already disclosed included ‘top secret’ information. Officials at the FBI did not respond to inquiries seeking further explanation.” (The New York Times, 7/5/2016)

On February 3, 2016, Representative Chris Stewart (R), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who viewed Clinton’s 22 “top secret” emails, claimed that there are seven more Clinton emails with a classification of “top secret” that the government has not revealed. (The Washington Examiner, 3/3/2016) Comey’s remarks suggest Stewart was correct.