February 5, 2016: The State Department completes a review of the email practices of the past five secretaries of state.

Secretary of State Colin Powell (Credit: public domain)

Secretary of State Colin Powell (Credit: public domain)

It finds that Colin Powell received two emails that were classified. And while Condoleezza Rice didn’t use emails, the “immediate staff” working for her received ten emails that were classified. In both cases, the information was deemed either “secret” or “confidential,” but not “top secret,” and was not marked classified when it was sent.

Powell responds by saying about his two emails, “I have reviewed the messages and I do not see what makes them classified. […] The State Department cannot now say they were classified then because they weren’t.” Also, Powell’s emails stayed on government computer servers.

These cases differ from Clinton’s, who had at least some top secret, “born classified” emails on her private server. (CNN, 2/5/2016) Additionally, none of the emails in either the Powell or Rice cases actually contained any intelligence information, and were classified for other, unmentioned reasons. (ABC News, 3/4/2016)

February 5, 2016: The New York Times reveals a few more details about what Clinton’s 22 emails deemed “top secret” contain.

A Reaper drone firing its missile. (Credit: public domain)

A Reaper drone firing its missile. (Credit: public domain)

The Times reports, “It remains unknown what exactly the 22 emails contain, given their classification as ‘top secret,’ but [some US] officials described them generally, on the condition of anonymity. The officials included people familiar with or involved in the handling of the emails in government agencies and in Congress.”

  • Officials from US intelligence agencies have battled with State Department officials over what should be considered classified in Clinton’s emails, with the intelligence agencies arguing for more classification and the State Department arguing for less. But in the case of Clinton’s 22 top secret emails, even the State Department agreed that all 22 should be deemed top secret or even above top secret.
  • The emails comprise seven distinct email chains, and most of those chains involve discussions of the CIA drone program. The Obama administration has generally considered the program highly classified, even though details of it have been widely reported. However, some Clinton’s emails contain unredacted mentions of the drone program, so it is the discussion of certain details of the drone program that merit a top secret classification. For instance, some of the top secret emails include an email discussion relating to an unnamed New York Times article that “contained sensitive information about the intelligence surrounding the CIA’s drone activities, particularly in Pakistan.”
  • At least one of the email chains was started by Richard Holbrooke, “who as the administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan would have been intimately involved in dealing with the ramifications of drone strikes.” He died in December 2010.
  • “Some of the emails” include information deemed “top secret/SAP,” which means “special access programs.” The Times calls these programs “among the government’s most closely guarded secrets.”
  • “At least one of the emails contain[s] oblique references to CIA operatives.” One email has been given a designation of “HCS-O,” which indicates the information came from human intelligence sources. However, officials say that “none of the emails mention specific names of CIA officers or the spy agency’s sources.” (The New York Times, 2/5/2016)