ELECTIONS

The real story behind Hillary's reckless failure to protect classified information

FILE --

FILE --  (AP)

With the Clinton campaign now openly gloating over Sunday’s FBI announcement, I remain disheartened that the national media is missing the real story: the truly Marie Antoinette-like manner in which Mrs. Clinton discharged national security responsibilities other than her duty to keep classified information off an unsecure personal server.

Antoinette, as you may recall, was the 18th century French monarch deposed and executed for living an opulent lifestyle while her people starved. I am not suggesting that the same fate befall Mrs. Clinton. But, like Ms. Antoinette’s public displays of disdain for her subjects, Mrs. Clinton’s decision to jeopardize national security by using a homebrew email server while Secretary of State is only the tip of the iceberg.

I reviewed all 347 pages of the FBI’s report on Mrs. Clinton through my lens as an attorney representing American service members, intelligence personnel, and diplomats accused of similar misconduct. In it, I found countless instances in which Mrs. Clinton and her team egregiously violated longstanding and well-publicized rules regarding the protection of classified information. These weren’t exceptions or inadvertent mistakes like those made by most of my clients; they were willful and recurring acts of sheer arrogance that evidence a disdain for the rules the rest of us are expected to follow.

For example:

Mrs. Clinton and her staff repeatedly brought, and in some cases even stored, personal electronic devices like cell-phones and laptops into rooms known as SCIF’s. A SCIF, or “Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility”, is a sound-proof and secure room designed for discussion of the government’s most closely guarded secrets. The government spends vast amounts of money building and maintaining SCIF’s, and for good reason: a compromise of SCI-level material would do exceptionally grave harm to national security, likely resulting in the death of American personnel abroad.

Yet with all the money and time spent on SCIF infrastructure, the single most significant threat to their effectiveness remains the simple cell phone. That’s because hostile foreign intelligence services have the ability to remotely activate the microphone in a target’s cell phone – even when it isn’t on – and turn it into an eavesdropping device.

Our intelligence community has known this for over a decade, and it is standard information disseminated to all security clearance holders with SCI-level access. There are even lockers outside of every SCIF which are prominently labeled for the purpose of storing personal electronic devices. Mrs. Clinton and her staff well-knew this: they just didn’t care.

In another one of many examples, Mrs. Clinton ordered members of her staff to literally strip the classified markings off of documents and send them via unsecure electronic means so that she would not be inconvenienced in following proper security protocol.

In another one of many examples, Mrs. Clinton ordered members of her staff to literally strip the classified markings off of documents and send them via unsecure electronic means so that she would not be inconvenienced in following proper security protocol.

The problem with this should be even more apparent than the SCIF fiasco: if a casual observer does not realize a document is classified, he or she will not take the steps necessary to protect the information it contains. Considering numerous individuals without security clearances had access to Mrs. Clinton’s emails, including those hired to maintain the server, and, we now know, her foreign housekeeper, the chance of classified information compromise was high before the labels designed to serve as a final deterrent to unauthorized viewing were removed.

Finally, Mrs. Clinton had a habit of traipsing around the backyards of our adversaries with her now notorious unencrypted smartphone in hand. The notion that a foreign government can hack our entire security clearance database, but did not or could not hack the Secretary of State’s personal server while it was pinging off their own country’s wireless network, is preposterous. Mrs. Clinton was informed by Diplomatic Security agents that she should leave her device on her official plane and turned off – she simply ignored them. It’s no wonder that the FBI recently announced with a 99 percent certainty that Mrs. Clinton’s server was hacked by at least five foreign intelligence agencies.

These are only a handful of the less technical – and unclassified – examples I found. But Mrs. Clinton’s hypocrisy and arrogance are further highlighted by the fact that her actions were per se violations of her own husband’s 1995 Executive Order on such matters. To wit, the National Adjudicative Guidelines for Security Clearances, which are the direct by-product of Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 12968, state in part that security violations include:

(a) collecting or storing classified or other protected information in any unauthorized location;

(b) loading, drafting, editing, modifying, storing, transmitting, or otherwise handling classified…information on any unapproved equipment including but not limited to any…computer…or pocket device;

(c) copying classified or other protected information in a manner designed to conceal or remove classification or other document control markings;

(d) any failure to comply with rules for the protection of classified or other sensitive information;

(e) failure to comply with rules or regulations that results in damage to the National Security, regardless of whether it was deliberate or negligent.”

…And that:      

“Deliberate or negligent failure to comply with rules and regulations for protecting classified or other sensitive information raises doubt about an individual's trustworthiness, judgment, reliability, or willingness and ability to safeguard such information, and is a serious security concern.” 

Perhaps none of this would matter if the repercussions for security violations weren’t so severe for the rest of us who operate in the national security arena. There is nothing more infuriating than watching Mrs. Clinton laugh off questions about her conduct and then having to tell good, patriotic men and women – many of them parents and sole income-earners – that they have lost their careers, livelihood, and standing in the community for doing far less, most of the time inadvertently.

Mrs. Clinton’s “let them eat cake” attitude should thus be disturbing for any student of history. Hypocrisy and arrogance, in whatever form, are not good traits in a leader.

Sean M. Bigley is managing partner of Bigley Ranish, LLP. The views expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @smb_JD.

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