The Clinton factor [updated]

A knowledgeable reader and “longtime Power Line fan” writes to say that he has enjoyed our coverage of the Hillary email case. He thought we “might be interested in the perspective of someone inside the federal law enforcement community.” He has worked as a federal agent for 20 years and been involved in hundreds of criminal investigations. He has made dozens of arrests and held Top Secret/SCI clearance for a long time. “So,” he writes, “I have very extensive experience handling classified materials and info.” I’ll withhold additional details regarding his background to preserve his anonymity. He comments:

What really strikes me about the Clinton case (at least based on Director Comey’s public statements), is… well… the FBI’s curious lack of curiosity. By which I mean instead of approaching the case with a broad focus and following the evidence wherever it leads, which is the usual mode of operation, the FBI (again, based on publicly available information) seems to have deliberately kept the focus as narrow as possible. Their interests seem to have extended only to the questions of (a) was classified material mishandled and potentially compromised; and (b) if so, was there any criminal intent in doing so. Then, having satisfied themselves that the answer to (a) is “yes,” and (b) is “no,” they declare “nothing further to see here, let’s just move on folks.”

But to anyone who has been involved in these types of cases, this really raises more questions than it answers. Among other questions that have not been publicly addressed by Director Comey: what WAS her intent in setting up these computer networks in the first place? It obviously wasn’t “convenience,” as Clinton ludicrously claimed when this issue first arose. If your aim is “convenience,” the most convenient thing to do would be to simply use the classified and unclassified email accounts the Government provides at no cost to you to do your official business, then just use a Hotmail or Gmail account or whatever for your personal business. Instead, she chose, at considerable effort and expense, to create her own computer network, complete with its own servers (multiple), even hiring an administrator onto the federal payroll to run it for her. Why?

I think it is fairly obvious to anyone with an IQ above room temperature that her intent in doing this was to evade the requirements of the Federal Records Act and Freedom of Information Act, thereby keeping her communications free from the prying eyes of the Inspector General, congressional oversight committees, the press and the public. Well, if her purpose was to avoid complying with federal statutes, doesn’t that, by definition, mean that she had the INTENT to break the law? And why does the FBI not care about this?

The other dog that didn’t bark: how did all this classified information get onto her server in the first place? It is important to understand that classified information up to the Secret level is handled on its own computer network; information at the Top Secret and above level is on another, even more exclusive network altogether. And the crucial fact is that there is NO connectivity between these classified networks and the internet. It would be literally impossible simply to email a classified document from these networks to an address on the internet.

That means that someone would have had either to laboriously transcribe classified documents from their source into an unclassified email or to download these materials onto some sort of removable media (CD, thumb drive, etc.), and then upload them to the internet. Not once or twice, mind you, but literally THOUSANDS of times. Doesn’t that level of effort to remove classified material from its proper place and put it on Hillary’s network demonstrate considerable, uh, what’s that word again? INTENT?

And what does the FBI think about that? Hmm, wouldn’t you like to know?

Having worked extensively with the FBI, I can’t imagine that these questions and others didn’t occur to the rank and file agents working the case, probably at a very early stage. The fact that they were not followed up on (at least not as has been publicly revealed) indicates that the FBI was deliberately instructed to maintain as narrow a focus as possible, either explicitly or implicitly. Who gave those orders? Comey? Lynch? The White House? Again, wouldn’t you like to know?

These questions have been bothering me and I wanted to get them off my chest. I will leave you with this parting thought experiment. Imagine that the facts of this case were exactly the same as we know them today, but, instead of being kept in-house, the case had been handed off at an early stage to a special prosecutor like, say, Patrick Fitzgerald. If Fitzgerald was running this case, do you really think the questions I raised above would remain unanswered? And do you really believe the case would have simply been closed with no one being charged with anything?

I think we all know the answer to that.

UPDATE: A couple of knowledgeable raaders add this point:

Laborious transcription or downloading to removable media is not necessary for classified information to have gotten into her server. The assumption that it was underpinned her initial defenses of “no classified documents” on the server. More likely they regularly deal in information that is classified due to its nature, and not because it originated in a marked document. So they would freely email it (a few times actually adding the proper markings, since those were discovered). This even goes for the SCI stuff, likely — based on reports, she probably discussed enemy troop/materiel movements the knowledge of which give away capabilities of highly sensitive intelligence assets, hence the classification level.This is not intended to excuse misuse of classified information; merely to clarify.

Another reader puts it this way:

It is possible that secret or higher material was moved from the classified to unclassified systems, but I suspect that was a rare occurrence (the few docs on her server that were marked as classified probably fall in this category). More likely the following is what transpired.

By the nature of the job, the Secretary of State would generate and receive classified info almost every day. Those who transmitted classified messages to her probably did so without any consideration for their level of sensitivity (and that would be because they’re cut from the same cloth she is). And even if they did care they couldn’t very well mark them with the appropriate classification and then hit the send button on a non-secure machine. That would have gotten them into immediate trouble. So they were wrongly left unmarked, and when she responded to their emails the threads just grew.

Whoever originated or responded to those emails had a responsibility to ensure they were appropriately marked as confidential, secret or, God forbid … TS. So when HRC says the docs “weren’t classified at the time” she’s simply saying they weren’t marked.

That will only fool those who know nothing about handling sensitive info. It actually damages her case. The information would have been even more sensitive when it was generated real time than it would be now …. and her failure to mark it properly was an egregious abdication of her responsibilities with respect to classified data management. She had an obligation to put the classification in the header and footer of the correspondence. So when her emails were reviewed during the investigation they were evaluated as classified, even though they were never marked as such. She pins her defense on her own failure to classify the messages.

As many readers have pointed out, the government uses separate systems for classified and unclassified correspondence. Using only a non-secure server in the basement and no classified system at all, how could a Secretary of State even conduct daily business? I don’t understand how any of this can be excused.

We will follow up with additional comments, if any. In the meantime, I ask readers to take these comments into consideration.