A “smoking gun” in the Clinton email saga? Part Two

Yesterday, I suggested that the following email sent by Hillary Clinton might represent a smoking gun in terms of the mishandling of classified information:

If they can’t fix [the secure server], turn [the document that rules require be sent on the secure server] into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure.

I wondered, however, what “nonpaper” meant in this context.

The most persuasive answer came from a recently retired State Department employee:

A “nonpaper,” as the name implies, is a less formal document [than the talking points Clinton and her aide were emailing about]. It can be just general guidance for a meeting, or in other contexts a set of notes which can be left with the foreign interlocutor as an unofficial memo.

Our reader continued:

What [Clinton] seems to be saying here is to relabel the talkers as a nonpaper so it can also be sent as unclassified (or SBU — Sensitive But Unclassified — which has no legal meaning but alerts the recipient that it is not to be shared casually) in an unclassified e-mail.

If this is right, the question becomes whether what Clinton told her aide is problematic. One could argue that once the document becomes “nonpaper” as a result of being deemed less formal, it no longer is classified and that, as such, there’s nothing wrong with sending it nonsecure even if the content remains the same.

This argument seems too technical, however. Surely, it can’t be the case that the mere relabeling of a classified document makes it okay to send the same content without the normal security measures. It seems to me that there would have to be substantive changes to the document — the editing out of that which made it classified — before it could be sent “nonsecure.”

It’s possible that by “turn into a nonpaper,” Clinton meant “edit out anything classified.” This strikes me as unlikely. The only specific thing Clinton told Sullivan to do to the face of the document was to remove identifying labels.

It’s likely that Clinton simply meant “send the same documents with the classification label removed.” But because there is ambiguity, I’m reluctant to conclude that the email, standing alone, is a smoking gun.

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