How secret is it? (12) [Updated]

In today’s Washington Post, Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger advance the story of Hillary Clinton’s insecure private email service for the conduct of official business as Secretary of State. They report: “Hillary Clinton wrote 104 emails that she sent using her private server while secretary of state that the government has since said contain classified information, according to a new Washington Post analysis of Clinton’s publicly released correspondence.”

Query: is it a defense to say that she didn’t mark her own emails classified at the time?

Follow up: is it a defense that she apparently can’t recognize classified information?

Maybe someday someone will ask.

The Post story continues:

The finding is the first accounting of the Democratic presidential front-runner’s personal role in placing information now considered sensitive into insecure email during her State Department tenure. Clinton’s ­authorship of dozens of emails now considered classified could complicate her efforts to argue that she never put government secrets at risk.

In roughly three-quarters of those cases, officials have determined that material Clinton herself wrote in the body of email messages is classified. Clinton sometimes initiated the conversations but more often replied to aides or other officials with brief reactions to ongoing discussions.

The analysis also showed that the practice of using non-secure email systems to send sensitive information was widespread at the department and elsewhere in government.

Clinton’s publicly released correspondence also includes classified emails written by about 300 other people inside and outside the government, the analysis by The Post found. The senders ­included ­longtime diplomats, top administration officials and foreigners who held no U.S. security clearance.

In those cases, Clinton was typically not among the initial recipients of the classified emails, which were included in back-and-forth exchanges between lower-level diplomats and other officials and arrived in her inbox only after they were forwarded to her by a close aide.

For federal employees other than Clinton, nearly all of the sensitive email was sent using their less secure, day-to-day government accounts. Classified information is supposed to be exchanged only over a separate, more secure network.

The Post analysis is based on an examination of the 2,093 chains of Clinton’s email correspondence that the State Department decided contained classified information. The agency released 52,000 pages of Clinton’s emails as part of a court-ordered process but blocked the sensitive information from public view. The Post identified the author of each email that contained such redactions.

The analysis raises difficult questions about how the government treats sensitive information. It suggests that either material is being overclassified, as Clinton and her allies have charged, or that classified material is being handled improperly with regularity by government officials at all levels — or some combination of the two.

The analysis did not account for 22 emails that the State Department has withheld entirely from public release because they are “top secret,” the highest level of classification.

The handling of those emails has drawn particular criticism from Republican lawmakers and officials in the intelligence community, who have argued that Clinton’s use of a private server exposed some of the government’s most closely guarded secrets to hacking or other potential breaches.

The story would not be complete without a comment from Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon reiterating the Fallon fallacy:

Regarding Clinton’s role in writing 104 of the emails, Fallon said the classification determinations “were after-the-fact . . . for the purposes of preparing these emails for release publicly.”

“It does not mean the material was classified when it was sent or received,” he said.

Helderman and Hamburger unkindly note: “[G]overnment rules require senders of classified information to properly mark it. And the inspector general for the intelligence community has said that some of Clinton’s correspondence contained classified material when it was sent — even if it was not labeled.”

The story contains ground for arguing the propriety of the classification involved. Interested readers should take a look at the whole thing here.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable reader comments: “The Washington Post story below confuses sensitive and classified. Sensitive is information OTHER than classified that the United States government does NOT want to be automatically released to the public in a FOIA request, does NOT want left lying about, requires that tiny actions be taken to safeguard it (must be stored in a file cabinet that is locked at night, NOT left on the desk, NOT be thrown out in the trash, rather shredded). The US DOD the uses the label FOUO (for official use only) and as I remember the US Dept of State used Limited Distribution (or something similar) for sensitive (BUT not classified) documents. For the US Dept of State the Limited Distribution documents could be shared with approved local employees (called foreign service nations, FSNs), but they are not approved to see any classified documents (with a few tiny exceptions).”

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