One of Hillary Clinton’s defensive tactics is to insist that none of the emails on her unsecure private server were “marked classified,” even though over a thousand emails containing classified material have now been discovered, including several Top Secret and beyond Top Secret documents.
Of course, Clinton leaves out the fact that those emails weren’t “marked classified” is that her staff stripped the markings away (as one of her emails appears to show her ordering a staffer to do.) The New York Post reports the FBI is investigating another possibility: Clinton’s aides manually cut-and-pasted the classified material out of secure systems, into messages destined for the Secretary of State’s private server.
What the Post discusses is a process alluded to long ago, by intelligence veterans who noted that classified material cannot simply be forwarded to unsecure systems, as ordinary email users might click the “Forward” button in applications like Gmail or Microsoft Outlook to pass a message along to friends or co-workers. The secure systems can’t directly communicate with unsecure email networks, such as the notorious ClintonEmail.com server.
The New York Post explains the setup in detail:
Clinton and her top aides had access to a Pentagon-run classified network that goes up to the Secret level, as well as a separate system used for Top Secret communications.
The two systems — the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) and Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) — are not connected to the unclassified system, known as the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet). You cannot e-mail from one system to the other, though you can use NIPRNet to send e-mails outside the government.
Somehow, highly classified information from SIPRNet, as well as even the super-secure JWICS, jumped from those closed systems to the open system and turned up in at least 1,340 of Clinton’s home e-mails — including several the CIA earlier this month flagged as containing ultra-secret Sensitive Compartmented Information and Special Access Programs, a subset of SCI.
Those classified systems can only be accessed from special secure workstations, whose hard drives are removed and stored overnight in a safe. Getting material from the secure system to ClintonEmail.com is a process referred to by experts as crossing the “air gap.” Back in August, those experts began speculating that only manually copying and retyping the information – or taking screen shots of it with a portable device, as the new article from the New York Post proposes – could get classified material across the air gap.
Yet another expert repeated this allegation to the Post on Sunday:
It takes a very conscious effort to move a classified e-mail or cable from the classified systems over to the unsecured open system and then send it to Hillary Clinton’s personal e-mail account,” said Raymond Fournier, a veteran Diplomatic Security Service special agent. “That’s no less than a two-conscious-step process.”
He says it’s clear from some of the classified e-mails made public that someone on Clinton’s staff essentially “cut and pasted” content from classified cables into the messages sent to her. The classified markings are gone, but the content is classified at the highest levels — and so sensitive in nature that “it would have been obvious to Clinton.” Most likely the information was, in turn, e-mailed to her via NIPRNet.
This tracks with what other sources told Fox News in August:
The daily revelations over classified information finding its way onto Hillary Clinton’s personal email server are raising perplexing questions for former government officials who wonder how classified information made its way onto the former secretary of state’s non-classified server — especially since the two systems are not connected.
“It is hard to move classified documents into the non-classified system. You couldn’t move a document by mistake,” said Willes Lee, a former operations officer for the U.S. Army in Europe and former operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach confirmed the two systems don’t connect. “The classified and unclassified system are separate and you cannot email between the two,” Gerlach told Fox News.
This explains why the classified header information wasn’t part of Clinton’s emails, fueling her legally irrelevant, but politically vital, “no emails were marked classified” talking point. Her aides copied everything except the headers.
According to the NYP, the FBI is “zeroing in on three of Clinton’s top department aides” for using cut-and-paste techniques to haul classified material across the air gap. The names will be familiar to every student of the Clinton email scandal: Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, and Deputy Chiefs of Staff Huma Abedin and Jake Sullivan.
Sullivan, as the New York Post notes, was the recipient of several clear orders from Clinton to bypass the secure email system, including the now-infamous “Turn into nonpaper with no identifying heading and send nonsecure” order she gave when frustrated by the slow delivery of a secure fax.
The Post lists some of the other material that somehow crossed the air gap, to land in the server that ended up sitting in a bathroom in Denver, Colorado:
Top Secret/SCI e-mails received by Clinton include a 2012 staff e-mail sent to the then-secretary containing investigative data about Benghazi terrorist suspects wanted by the FBI and sourcing a regional security officer. They also include a 2011 message from Clinton’s top aides that contains military intelligence from United States Africa Command gleaned from satellite images of troop movements in Libya, along with the travel and protection plans for Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was later killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi.
As the Post observers, former CIA Director General David Petraeus faced severe consequences (and may yet face even more) for exactly the same breach of security Clinton carried out, except hers was an order of magnitude worse, in both the volume of information compromised, and the number of people it was exposed to. Clinton signed the same agreement to protect the integrity of the classification system that Petraeus did.
All that remains is for Clinton to begin throwing her aides under the bus, by claiming she didn’t think they’d interpret her instructions as a command to cut-and-paste sensitive material from secure workstations. That wouldn’t save Clinton from legal jeopardy – assuming the Unites States government hasn’t completed its descent into banana-republic “justice” – because Clinton created the unsecure system, and made it very obvious she expected her aides to use it.
It would be laugh-out-loud funny if the Justice Department ended up indicting one or more of her aides, but let Clinton herself off the hook. Except there would be nothing funny about it, because that sort of irresponsible conduct by top officials is precisely what the laws governing classified material were designed to strongly discourage. The U.S. intelligence system will not survive, if the big shots know they can compromise intel for their mere convenience, at the cost of a few fined or jailed fall-guy aides.