Unless you’ve been living under a rock and have no idea what it’s going on in the world, you’ve probably heard about Hillary Clinton and her personal email address and the private server she used when she was Secretary of State. Many critics have accused Clinton of violating national security policy by emailing classified information on her private email.
It doesn’t help Clinton’s case that most of the private server was wiped after she left office. The emails that have been released to the public are only a portion of the larger picture. While all of this seems incriminating and portrays an untrustworthy and conniving Clinton, it may not be as big a scandal as initially appears. The email scandal serves to sully Clinton in her presidential campaign, and is not as big a deal as her opponents make them out to be.
There is nothing wrong with what Clinton did, but that still doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do. Clinton herself called her actions a mistake and apologized to the American people. She lamented her choice of actions, but maintained her innocence in terms of the law. According to Clinton, she broke no laws or rules. The main point of contention is whether or not the information in the emails was classified at the time that the correspondence was sent.
The New York Times reported, “Government investigators said Friday that they had discovered classified information on the private email account that Clinton used while secretary of state, stating unequivocally that those secrets never should have been stored outside of secure government computer systems.” However, Clinton has always maintained that there was no information on her emails that was marked classified at the time. It is entirely possible that information in the emails was labeled as classified after she sent the emails. She has repeatedly stated that she did not knowingly exchange classified information on her private email.
In addition, some of the now-marked-classified information could merely be part of the large amounts of data which are overclassified. The Associated Press writes, “Some officials said they believed the designations were a stretch—a knee-jerk move in a bureaucracy rife with over-classification.” The AP article even mentions classified information that is openly reported on and talked about. For example, “The drone exchange, the officials said, begins with a copy of a news article about the CIA drone program that targets terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere. While that program is technically top secret, it is well-known and often reported on. Former CIA director Leon Panetta and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have openly discussed it.”
What this means is that just because information is classified, that doesn’t mean it is secret or hidden. It could very well be open knowledge. Senator Moynihan wrote an entire book about the over regulation and classification of American intel. He says, “Americans are familiar with the tendency to overregulate in other areas. What is different with secrecy is that the public cannot know the extent or the content of the regulation. Thus, secrecy is the ultimate mode of regulation; the citizen does not even know that he or she is being regulated!” He goes on to say that most government agencies err on the side caution when it comes to classification. Which all points to the larger concept that classification is not the end all be all for security. Many items that are classified may not be secret or impact national security. They could be classified just to be careful or for bureaucratic reasons.
The State Department has always been well aware that its officials—and its Secretary especially—would handle classified information via email. Despite this, it only recently required the employees to use the State Department email address. Before John Kerry’s tenure, it was not required that employees use the government email address. All employees were allowed to use a personal email address, though it was not recommended.
On August 24, the spokesperson for the State Department outright said that Clinton did not violate any laws, as there were no protocols in place at the time preventing personal email use. The current laws do regulate email use, but they were not in effect during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary. She had the right to use her personal email address.
Clinton is not the only official who has used her personal email address for business reasons. The Washington Post reports, “Several Cabinet-level officials—including former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson and former health and human services secretary Kathleen Sebelius—used private or secondary government email accounts.” While this may not have been the best policy, it was in no way illegal. Clinton followed the laws. This “email scandal” serves to detract from a capable and accomplished presidential candidate.
It’s time to stop the focus on scandals and intrigue and focus on policy.