Politics & Policy

Clinton’s Pretense That She Didn’t Understand ‘C’ Was for ‘Classified’

General James Cartwright on Capitol Hill in 2010 (Reuters photo: Hyungwon Kang)
For mishandling ‘top secret’ information and lying about it, she should be prosecuted.

So now Hillary finally knows what the “(C)” stands for in government documents: It’s Cartwright . . . as in four-star Marine General James E. Cartwright, the retired 67-year-old former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the expendable federal official against whom laws protecting classified information actually get enforced.

(C), see? Oh wait — sorry. I don’t mean to confuse Mrs. Clinton by starting this second paragraph with “(C)”. After all, as she diva-’splained to the FBI, she could only “speculate” that “(C)” must have something to do with organizing paragraphs “in alphabetical order.” Speculation was necessary, she said, apparently with a straight face, because she didn’t really know what “(C)” meant.

The question arose because the “(C)” designation — applicable to classified information at the confidential level — turned up in at least one of Clinton’s personal e-mails. Those would be the e-mails that, she repeatedly insisted, never, ever contained classified information. Or at least, that’s what she insisted until government agencies confessed that hundreds of the e-mails do contain classified information. Then Clinton’s “never, ever” tale morphed into the more narrowly tailored lie that there were no e-mails “marked classified.” Alas, that claim could not withstand examination of the e-mails, during which the “(C)” markings were found . . . whereupon the explanation underwent more, shall we say, refining. Thus the final, astonishing claim that she didn’t know what the markings meant, along with the laugh-out-loud whopper that maybe it was all about alphabetical order.

Yeah, that’s the ticket!

In case you’re keeping score: When a person being prosecuted for a crime changes her story multiple times, as if she were playing Twister (kids, ask your parents), the prosecutor gets to prove each of the evolving lies at the trial. As you’d imagine, juries grasp that the truth doesn’t need an editor. That’s why people whose explanations can’t keep up with the evidence are pretty much a lock to get convicted.

But that’s when it’s “(C)” as in Cartwright, not Clinton.

General Cartwright pled guilty this week to making false statements to FBI agents who were investigating his mishandling of classified information. The general admits to falsely concealing his communications with two journalists. They involved “Stuxnet,” a covert American–Israeli operation to infect the computer systems that controlled Iran’s main nuclear-enrichment facility. The information was top secret, regarding a crucial program. Its exposure caused diplomatic problems and threatens our spy agencies’ relationships with foreign intelligence services, which are based on the ability to keep secrets secret.

Still, compared with Clinton, Cartwright is a piker. As the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reports, Cartwright appears to have been a “confirming” source. That is, reporters from the New York Times and of Newsweek already had the Stuxnet intelligence (from some other leaker whom the administration has not prosecuted). Cartwright merely acknowledged the information’s accuracy — and, he says, only after it had appeared in published news reports. His claimed purpose was to prevent additional intelligence from being published to the detriment of our national security. This does not excuse his conduct, but it may go a long way toward explaining why the Justice Department charged only a felony false-statement count, not a classified-information offense.

Clinton, by contrast, willfully set up a homebrew e-mail system. Given that the secretary of state’s duties preponderantly involve intelligence matters, this made it inevitable that classified information would unlawfully be transmitted and stored on non-secure servers (i.e., outside the multi-layered protection of the government’s classified communications system). Thus did the FBI find, for example, that of the 110 e-mails on Clinton’s non-secure system that were — contrary to her claims — classified at the time she sent or received them, eight involved top-secret information.

What does “top secret” mean? Under the executive order signed in 1995 by Mrs. Clinton’s husband, President Bill Clinton, it is information the mishandling of which “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” With such an enormous level of threat, extraordinary restrictions on access are imposed to limit the possibility of exposure. That’s why the government generally comes down like a ton of bricks on offenders, or at least offenders not named Clinton.

Even these extraordinary measures, however, are deemed insufficient when the information is designated as “SAP” (“special access program”) — as seven of Mrs. Clinton’s were. Because mishandling top-secret SAP programs could expose either intelligence-gathering efforts that are critical to protecting American lives or intelligence sources who gravely imperil themselves in order to acquire life-saving intelligence for the United States, access to such information is on an even more extremely limited “need to know” basis. Yet, Clinton made them vulnerable to everyone.

Fully 36 of Clinton’s e-mails fell into the ‘secret’-information category.

Fully 36 of Clinton’s e-mails fell into the “secret”-information category. That designation applies when information “could be expected to cause serious damage to national security” if transmitted or stored in an unauthorized manner. “Serious” is not as weighty as “exceptionally grave,” but it is, well, serious. That’s why people usually get prosecuted for compromising it.

Unlike Cartwright, Clinton did not just communicate with a couple of reporters who already knew the information in question. She made previously concealed intelligence massively vulnerable to capture by foreign intelligence agencies and hackers. On this point, the FBI’s rationalization that it found no evidence of capture is meaningless. As the FBI director conceded, competent cyber-thieves do not leave traces of their intrusions.

That brings us back to “(C),” the designation that applied to at least seven of Clinton’s e-mails at the time she sent or received them, and that now covers thousands more because government intelligence agencies adjudged them too sensitive to disclose publicly. Again, “(C)” does not really stand for “Cartwright” or indicate alphabetical ordering. It is, instead, the designation for “confidential” information that, if mishandled, could “cause damage to the national security.” This means its mishandling is a significant offense, even if the damage is not likely to be “exceptionally grave” or “serious.” That’s why its compromise often results in prosecution, or at least severe sanctions such as termination of employment or loss of security clearance.

In light of General Cartwright’s prosecution for lying about his mishandling of classified information, it is worth revisiting Mrs. Clinton’s representation to the FBI that she did not know what “(C)” meant.

For four years, Clinton was secretary of state, a job in which classified information is stock-in-trade. On starting her tenure, Clinton signed a document acknowledging that she had “received a security indoctrination concerning the nature and protection of classified information.” In the last paragraph, right over her signature, Clinton acknowledges that she has been provided with the aforementioned executive order signed by her husband in 1995 — the one that explains, in painstaking detail, what classified information at the confidential level is.

Naturally, when later asked about it by the FBI, Clinton denied any recollection of this security indoctrination. Yet in her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton vividly recounts receiving thorough training to guard against the omnipresent danger of espionage. Indeed, she recalled that, when she traveled, she and her staff would leave “BlackBerrys, laptops — anything that communicated with the outside world — on the plane, with their batteries removed to prevent foreign services from compromising them.” Further, based on the training she’d gotten, she took to reading intelligence information

inside an opaque tent in a hotel room. In less well-equipped settings we were told to improvise by reading sensitive material with a blanket over our head. 

These mountains of documents she scrutinized involved such matters as the Snowden leaks, the NSA program, the Libyan civil war, Mubarak’s fall and the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise, the Saudi role in 9/11, the Iraqi nuclear and missile programs, the Benghazi siege, the arming of “rebels” in Libya and Syria, the deterioration of Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and on, and on. And that’s not the half of it. Before heading the State Department, she spent eight years in the U.S. Senate, most of that time as a member of the Armed Services Committee. It was wartime, and the major national controversies centered on classified information. She therefore had to pore over intelligence that, for example, supported the Iraq invasion, was derived from interrogations, measured the success of the “surge,” and so forth.

If there is one thing Clinton has emphasized in her presidential campaign, it is her “readiness.” Whether she was on Capitol Hill or at Foggy Bottom, she wants you to know, she was never the phone-it-in type. She did all her homework, and then some.

If there is one thing Clinton has emphasized in her presidential campaign, it is her ‘readiness.’

Well, in those classified documents she studied lo those dozen years, the “(C)” designation is ubiquitous. It often appears numerous times in a single document — even on a single page. Yet, despite spending a decade-plus as a daily, top-level consumer of classified information, Clinton looked a room full of FBI agents and federal prosecutors in the eye and told them she didn’t know what the “(C)” designation meant.

Mrs. Clinton has told many preposterous lies, but that has to be the most outrageous of the lot.

Unlike Clinton, Cartwright was not a deft political climber. He maneuvered himself into President Obama’s good graces by siding with the White House on military planning for Afghanistan, in the process double-crossing his former patrons, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. As these things tend to go in Gomorrah-by-the-Potomac, Cartwright’s detractors engineered a smear campaign against him — rumors of an alleged affair — that led Obama to renege on a promise to elevate him to Joint Chiefs chairman. So by the time he got jammed up on the Stuxnet leak, he was alone, without allies to bail him out.

When you’re expendable, it’s amazing how zealous law enforcement can be. Remember Clinton’s case, in which the Justice Department refused to open a grand-jury investigation or issue subpoenas to compel production of evidence? Remember how Justice gave immunity to any Clinton ally who wandered near jeopardy? With that in mind, get a load of the self-congratulatory press release Justice issued after Cartwright pled guilty: 

We conducted a thorough and independent investigation included collecting tens of thousands of documents through subpoenas, search warrants and document requests, and interviewing scores of current and former government employees.

As these columns have observed, the Justice Department and FBI conduct themselves very differently when they are trying to make a case rather than not make a case.

“No, no, no,” they counter, “we treat everyone equally.” In fact, the FBI makes a cameo appearance in the Cartwright press release to state a solemn vow (my italics):

The FBI will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps to thoroughly investigate individuals, no matter their position, who undermine the integrity of our justice system by lying to federal investigators.

Really? No tolerance for lying? Well then:

Hillary Clinton said she did not know what “(C)” meant.

Hillary Clinton told the FBI she could not recall any training regarding how classified information was to be handled, and yet she wrote extensively about it in her memoir, and — as a condition of getting access to such information — she signed a government declaration attesting that she had gotten precisely such training.

And speaking, as the FBI did, of “the integrity of our justice system”: Hillary Clinton swore in an affidavit, filed in federal Freedom of Information Act litigation, that she had directed that “all my e-mails . . . that were or potentially were federal records” — meaning: anything related to State Department business — “be provided to the Department of State, and on information and belief, this has been done.” This affidavit was filed in August 2015: seven months after her homebrew server system became a public controversy — seven months to review the facts before making these sworn representations to a federal court. Contrary to what she stated, the FBI found that thousands of Clinton’s work related e-mails were not provided to the State Department, and at least three of these withheld e-mails contained classified information.

Moreover, in sworn testimony before the House Benghazi Committee, Clinton not only repeated the false claim that she had provided the State Department with “all of my work-related emails.” She further represented to the Committee that, in segregating what was work-related from what was purportedly private, her lawyers “went through every single email.” Plainly, this is not true.

This week, after General Cartwright’s guilty plea, the Justice Department and the FBI thumped their chests and told us that if any government official, no matter how powerful, mishandles classified information and then lies about it, that official will be prosecuted — at least for the false statements.

Well . . . how about it?

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