Hillary Clinton has found herself embroiled in an email controversy just three days before the Iowa caucuses.
On Friday, Fox News reported, courtesy of an unidentified intelligence official, that some emails sent out by Hillary Clinton were “too damaging” to national security to release under any circumstances. Hours later, the State Department released a statement confirming that, in fact, 22 emails sent out by Clinton using her unsecured home server were classified “top secret” and could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to national security if disclosed.
The Clinton campaign has, understandably, been thrown off the rails and released a statement in the aftermath of the declaration by the State Department, in fact asking the intelligence community to release her emails.
It all makes up for a fascinating showdown between Hillary Clinton and the Republicans, none of whom will be keen to lose out on an opportunity that the present instance applies. After all, the “top secret” emails are a sword hanging above Hillary’s head till they are actually released, if ever, and it could be a leverage Clinton’s rivals would want to use in more ways than one.
But the question is this – are the emails which were sent out by Hillary Clinton really “top secret”?
There is no way to know except to read the emails ourselves. But, considering that is beyond our reach, our best bet would be to make an informed guess. Whether or not Hillary Clinton sent out sensitive information using her personal email is open to debate, of course, but there are certain facets to the whole controversy that need to be illuminated.
For starters, it would be useful to know that there are two broad ways that information is classified in the United States. The first way, often termed “born classified,” pertains to the kind of information that is classified as soon as it is released, or rather as soon as it is in circulation within the intelligence community. The other way to classify information is to do so reflexively, at a later point of time.
According to the statement released by the State Department, Hillary Clinton’s emails “were not marked classified at the time they were sent.”
Which means that at the time Clinton sent out those emails, they were not classified “top secret,” or were even deemed secret enough to be withheld from the public domain. According to a report by Vox, in most of these kinds of cases, it becomes probable that the classification of information is more to do with the unclear, messy, or contradictory nature of classification rules applied in the federal agencies of the country, than it is to with the sensitive nature of material itself.
In fact, so much of material is classified simply because agencies want to be on the safe side. “When in doubt, classify” was the mantra applied by the Reagan administration in 1982, and although Bill Clinton sought to bring it under control, during George W. Bush’s reign, the mere bureaucracy for classifying documents cost a staggering $7 billion of taxpayer money every year.
So much so that, in fact, in 2005, Richard Ben-Veniste, the head of 9/11 commission, told the Congress that 9/11 could have been avoided only if a “great deal of information [was] never classified at all.”
Which again brings us to square one. While it is possible, as Associated Press reported, that those Hillary Clinton’s emails, which are being withheld from the public, may contain some of “the U.S. government’s most closely guarded secrets,” it is also equally possible that Clinton’s emails contain very banal information that have been classified by the hyper-sensitized, overly-careful threshold guardians of the intelligence community.
Only time will tell us what the truth is, but Hillary Clinton might be staring at difficult times ahead with the State Department’s revelation coming at such an important juncture of the presidential race.
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