On The Secretary Of State Using A Private Email Server

One of my favorite things about observing the antics of politicians is that they will regularly make completely preposterous statements to justify their actions and exercise of power.  Many accuse them of "lying," and maybe that's the best word we have in our language, but plenty of the statements are just so detached from reality that merely calling them "lies" doesn't remotely do justice to the situation.  I'm thinking of examples like the line from Barack Obama's acceptance speech at his first nominating convention in 2008 where he said that this would be "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."  Or the same guy's speech from just Monday of this week, where he blamed asthma among minority children on CO2 in the atmosphere from the burning of coal.

And then there is the question of our then-Secretary of State using a private email server, not up to government security standards, to do her government business.  And when questioned about the subject at a news conference in March, the New York Times quoted her as saying, “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email."

Now I've never worked in the government in any capacity involving classified information, but I have had the experience of having to deal with classified information as part of working on private litigation.  Granted, it was a long time ago, and technology has changed a lot.  Still, I came away from the experience realizing that it's not possible to deal with classified information without taking seriously the rules and protocols surrounding it.

My tale goes back to a case in the late 1970s, involving an aerospace system with capabilities that the government would not want its adversaries to know.  Everyone involved first needed to get a security clearance to the level of "Secret" -- a process that took a couple of months and was quite intrusive.  But more important, the protocols surrounding the use of the classified information were very onerous and serious.  All classified documents needed to be in a locked file cabinet when not actually in use.  The locked file cabinet then had to be in a secure facility.  The nearest secure facility that we had access to was a factory in the South Bronx, and in one of the grimmest parts of that grim neighborhood, then in the midst of the worst days of its "Fort Apache" period.  Every few days I would have to take a long subway ride up there to sit in a windowless room to study the documents, making sure immediately to lock them back up as soon as I was done.  Witnesses who were to be questioned about the documents also needed to make the trek to the South Bronx facility for their testimony.  It was obvious through all of this that the people who had imposed the classification had always used a rule of "when in doubt, classify" -- a rule that added very substantial costs to the process.   If there was anything in a document that could possibly help an adversary to understand anything about the system that might be useful, the document was classified.

As far as I know, virtually everything the Secretary of State does or says to colleagues and aides would be classified by the very fact that the Secretary of State did or said it.  Anything about negotiations or discussions with other countries would be classified, even when the other country is among our very best friends, like say England or Israel.  All national security information would be classified.  Could Hillary really be asking us to believe that she was able to function as Secretary of State, and send and receive tens of thousands of emails, without any information in these categories being included?  Wow.

It really says something about the level of preposterousness here that even the New York Times is expressing skepticism.  Well, not in their own voice; but they interview and quote people in a position to know.  Example:

A former senior State Department official who served before the Obama administration said that although it was hard to be certain, it seemed unlikely that classified information could be kept out of the more than 30,000 emails that Mrs. Clinton’s staff identified as involving government business.  “I would assume that more than 50 percent of what the secretary of state dealt with was classified,” said the former official, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to seem ungracious to Mrs. Clinton. “Was every single email of the secretary of state completely unclassified? Maybe, but it’s hard to imagine.”

Seems to me that the strategy here has to have been that once a judge appointed by her husband had been drawn, and with a credulous and supportive press at her side, it would be possible to play out the string well past the next election, by which time everyone would have forgotten about the issue.  Unfortunately for her, it looks like the judge is not going along with that strategy.  Still, these things move very slowly.  It's more likely to be a slow drip than any big explosion.