Hillary Clinton’s current defense of the fact that, contrary to her initial defense, her email server contained classified information is that the information wasn’t “marked” classified at the time she received it. (Clinton apparently still denies sending classified information, period). The implication is that because the information wasn’t marked classified, it wasn’t classified, and therefore she did nothing problematic when she received it on a private server.
The argument is absurd on its face. If the Secretary of State receives a memo that says “Israel set to launch stealth attack on the Parchin facility,” the information is obviously classified, and top secret, even if not marked as such. As J. William Leonard, a former director of the U.S. government’s Information Security Oversight Office, puts it, this kind of information is “born classified.”
On the other hand, there’s little doubt that the government over-classifies information. Thus, it’s likely that Clinton’s server contained some information that, though eventually deemed classified, wasn’t material the security of which should have concerned her.
The “over-classification” argument doesn’t absolve Clinton. She shouldn’t have been using a private server in the first place. However, if none of the classified information she received on that server should be deemed classified, then Clinton is in a better place because national security will not have been compromised and she can plausibly she say had no reason for concern over sending or receiving the material from her private server.
So which is it? Did Clinton send or receive some material that was “born classified” or only material that was subsequently deemed classified by over-zealous bureaucrats.
According to Reuters, it’s the former. The news agency reports that the details included in the “Classified” stamps now placed on certain Clinton emails — which include information describing the nature of the classification — “indicate that some of Clinton’s emails from her time as [Secretary of State] are filled with a type of information the U.S. government and the department’s own regulations automatically deems classified from the get-go — regardless of whether it is already marked that way or not.” In other words, Clinton emails include information that is “born classified.”
Reuters has only seen “the small fraction” of Clinton emails that have been made available to the public. Even in this sample, it has identified “at least 30 email threads from 2009, representing scores of individual emails, that include what the State Department’s own “Classified” stamps now identify as so-called ‘foreign government information.'” Such information is defined as as any information, written or spoken, provided in confidence to U.S. officials by their foreign counterparts.
According to U.S. regulations Reuters says it has examined, this sort of information, which the State Department concedes Clinton both sent and received in her emails, must be “presumed” classified, in part to protect national security and the integrity of diplomatic interactions.
Reuters emphasizes that the 30 or more email threads it found that contain “born classified” information do not include the four (in a sample of 40) that the inspector general for U.S. intelligence agencies discovered that contained classified information at the time they were sent. Two of those four contained top secret information.
Reuters says that the State Department disputes its analysis of Clinton’s emails, but would not say why, or in what respect, it considers the analysis faulty.
As for Team Clinton, it declined to answer questions.