It remains one of the unanswered questions of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal: how did classified information make its way onto messages stored and transmitted by her “home brew system.
Now, federal investigators are working to confirm a theory that we first identified months ago. From today’s edition of the New York Post:
The FBI is investigating whether members of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle “cut and pasted” material from the government’s classified network so that it could be sent to her private e-mail address, former State Department security officials say.
Clinton and her top aides had access to a Pentagon-run classified network that goes up to the Secret level, as well as a separate system used for Top Secret communications.
The two systems — the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) and Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) — are not connected to the unclassified system, known as the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet). You cannot e-mail from one system to the other, though you can use NIPRNet to send e-mails outside the government.
Somehow, highly classified information from SIPRNet, as well as even the super-secure JWICS, jumped from those closed systems to the open system and turned up in at least 1,340 of Clinton’s home e-mails — including several the CIA earlier this month flagged as containing ultra-secret Sensitive Compartmented Information and Special Access Programs, a subset of SCI.
[Raymond Fournier, a former Diplomatic Security Service special agent told the Post] it’s clear from some of the classified e-mails made public that someone on Clinton’s staff essentially “cut and pasted” content from classified cables into the messages sent to her. The classified markings are gone, but the content is classified at the highest levels — and so sensitive in nature that “it would have been obvious to Clinton.” Most likely the information was, in turn, e-mailed to her via NIPRNet.
To work around the closed, classified systems, which are accessible only by secure desktop workstations whose hard drives must be removed and stored overnight in a safe, Clinton’s staff would have simply retyped classified information from the systems into the non-classified system or taken a screen shot of the classified document, Fournier said. “Either way, it’s totally illegal.”
“…the FBI is reportedly focusing on how classified information wound up on Hillary’s private e-mail network. We’re guessing the bureau already knows the answer to that one; files were either uploaded to the system, or various users of the system simply copied sensitive data from reports into their e-mails, minus the classification markings.
We’ve long favored that latter scenario, for two reasons. First, the classified data almost certainly originated on networks set up to handle that type of information, specifically SIPRNET (for secret-level information) and JWICS, for material at the TS/SCI level. In the wake of the Manning and Snowden scandals, the government has made it extremely difficult to upload or download files from those systems. In many cases, moving a document from SIPRNET to JWICS requires the assistance of a network administrator and must be approved in advance.
On the other hand, it would be very easy for Mrs. Clinton (or a member of her cabal) to simply look at a classified report and then summarize the important findings in an e-mail, created and disseminated on the private, unsecure network. Ask anyone who has held a clearance and worked with classified data and they will tell you: such practices are unpardonable sins, deserving of prosecution and punishment to the full letter of the law. The fact that the former SecState (and her senior aides) held clearances for years–and deliberately chose to place classified information on an open network–gives you some idea of the contempt they hold for the nation’s secrets and our laws.
Obviously, it wasn’t very hard for the FBI to figure it out. The Bureau utilizes the same systems outlined above and their IT specialists, security personnel and investigators are very familiar with how they work–and the difficulty in transferring files from SIPRNET or JWICS to a private, unsecure system.
We’ve long believed that the bureau has been focusing on who originated the various classified e-mails, and comparing those messages to the original, classified traffic that appeared on the secure networks. Determining the State Department staffer who created the message should be fairly easy; determining where the information came from probably takes a bit longer, since the classified sections of e-mails sent to Mrs. Clinton are likely paraphrased from the original source document.
It is also likely that FBI Director James Comey has instructed his agents to build a detailed and compelling case, understanding the difficulties that may arise in persuading the Justice Department to actually indict HRC and her associates. As Andrew McCarthy details at National Review, the bureau is facing a major obstacle in its probe of Mrs. Clinton and her e-mail system. So far, the Justice Department has not appointed prosecutors to work with agents in building the case, and it has not impaneled a grand jury to hear evidence and hand down potential indictments. Until the DOJ becomes fully engaged, the investigation really isn’t an investigation.
Mr. Comey, a veteran Washington hand with an impressive resume as a government lawyer, fully understands this. And that may explain those recent, damaging revelations about the discovery of Special Access Program (SAP) information in Mrs. Clinton’s e-mails. SAP is a form of classification typically used to protect exceptionally sensitive intelligence sources and collection methods. The number of individuals with access to such programs may be limited to just a handful, depending on what is being shielded. In some cases, SAP may protect extremely well-placed human intelligence (HUMINT) sources. Disclosure of such information often results in the death of foreign nationals working for our intelligence community.
Look for more details about HRC’s e-mails in the weeks ahead. The FBI is reminding the Obama Administration of the seriousness of this scandal, and the role the DOJ must play in bringing offenders to justice. Officials at the bureau are providing the outline of a bullet-proof case and putting the onus for action on Attorney General Loretta Lynch. We will soon know if Ms. Lynch is prepared to engage the DOJ, and later this year, if she is willing to bring charges against Hillary Clinton and her associates. If Lynch declines, we will see a series of resignations that will make the “Saturday Night Massacre” look like a church picnic. There would likely be an attempt to impeach Ms. Lynch–all in the middle of a presidential campaign.
Pundits are already describing the 2016 election cycle as “unusual,” given the entry (and performance) of Donald Trump. But Trump’s ascendancy in the GOP race may take a backseat to the case against Hillary Clinton, and a potential constitutional crisis in the late summer or early fall.
Buckle your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.