Around June 2011: The State Department gets a say in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, leading to email trouble for Clinton and others.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter (Credit: India Times)

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter (Credit: India Times)

For several years, the CIA has been conducting a secret drone program in Pakistan, targeting Islamist militants in the mountainous region near the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani government has secretly allowed the program while publicly protesting it, because the Pakistani public is mostly against it. In 2011, Pakistani officials push back against the program due to the growing number of strikes and an increasing public backlash.

In June 2011, the Wall Street Journal reports that there is a debate about the scale of the program inside the US government. State Department and military officials argue that the CIA needs to be more selective with their strikes. Also, for the first time, State Department officials are given a say. The CIA begins notifying US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter about planned drone strikes, and this information gets passed up the State Department to Clinton and other top officials. The department then gets to concur or not concur with the strike.

For the rest of Clinton’s tenure until February 2013, the department objects to a planned strike only once or twice. But the strikes will often be discussed by Clinton and other State Department officials in unsecured email channels, and this will later be a focus of the FBI’s Clinton investigation. (The Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2016(The Wall Street Journal, 6/4/2011)

After June 2011 to Late 2012: Clinton and other State Department officials sometimes discuss proposed drone strikes in Pakistan in unsecured emails.

A rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, to condemn US drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, on October 28, 2011. (Credit: The Associated Press)

A rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, to condemn US drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, on October 28, 2011. (Credit: The Associated Press)

According to a June 2016 Wall Street Journal article, there are a series of Clinton emails in these two years regarding the US drone program in Pakistan. Starting roughly around June 2011, the State Department is given the right to approve or disapprove of the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan as part of the US government’s attempt to mollify Pakistan’s concerns so they will continue their secret support of the program.

However, this creates a communication problem, because advanced warning of strikes varies from several days to as little as half an hour. According to the Journal, “Under strict US classification rules, US officials have been barred from discussing strikes publicly and even privately outside of secure communications systems.”

As a result, US intelligence officials want State officials to use a very secure system to discuss the strikes, called JWICS (Joint Worldwide Intelligence Community Systems). But few State officials have access to JWICS, even in Washington, DC, so they use another secure system commonly known as the “high side” (SIPR or, Secret Internet Protocol Router Network).

However, this can be slow as well as difficult to access outside of normal work hours. As a result, according to the Journal, on about a half-dozen different occasions, State officials use the “low side,” which means unsecure computers, such as emailing from a smart phone. This is often said to take place at night, or on the weekend or holiday, or when people are traveling, or when a proposed drone strike is imminent. It is not clear why secure phone lines are not used instead.

The emails are usually vaguely worded so they don’t mention the “CIA,” “drones,” or details about the militant targets, unnamed officials will later claim. These emails sometimes are informal discussions that take place in addition to more formal notifications done through secure communications. In some cases, these emails about specific drone strikes will later be deemed “top secret,” making up many of Clinton’s reported 22 top secret emails.

According to the Journal, unnamed US officials will later say that there “is no evidence Pakistani intelligence officials intercepted any of the low side State Department emails or used them to protect militants.” (The Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2016)

December 23–27, 2011: An email about a specific US drone strike is forwarded to Clinton.

Frank Ruggiero (Credit: public domain)

Frank Ruggiero (Credit: public domain)

On December 23, 2011, US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter sends a short email to his bosses Frank Ruggiero, who is acting US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Ruggiero’s deputy Daniel Feldman. The email’s subject heading is “(SBU),” which stands for “sensitive but unclassified.” The single line email will later be mostly redacted, but according to a June 2016 Wall Street Journal article, Munter indicates that a specific US drone strike is planned.

Feldman then forwards the email to Clinton aides Jake Sullivan and Cheryl Mills with the comment, “I’m sure you know already, but just in case.” There are two more emails between Feldman and Mills in the chain that day, mostly later redacted.

Then, on December 27, 2011, Mills resumes the chain with a short email to Feldman, asking, “What happened on this?”

After some more mostly redacted discussion, the full email chain is forwarded by Mills to Clinton later that day. Her response, if any, is unknown.

 Nine-year-old Nabila Rehman appears before Congress and holds a drawing depicting the drone strike that killed her grandmother. (Credit: Evan Vucci / The Associated Press)

Nabila Rehman appears before Congress and holds a drawing depicting the drone strike that killed her grandmother in 2009. (Credit: Evan Vucci / The Associated Press)

The Wall Street Journal will later cite this chain as its only specific example of emails about the US drone program said to be a “key part” of the FBI’s Clinton investigation. Apparently, many of the other emails about various drone strikes are later deemed “top secret,” so their details can’t be shared.

The Journal will claim this email chain is an example of officials having discussions about highly classified drone strikes via unsecured emails “in part because people were away from their offices for the [Christmas] holiday and didn’t have access to a classified computer, officials said.”

Munter incorrectly marks the original email “SBU,” because the Journal will later note, “Under strict US classification rules, US officials have been barred from discussing strikes publicly and even privately outside of secure communications systems.”

Many of the other emails discussing proposed drone strikes will be deemed “top secret,” the highest classification level. (The Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2016) (US Department of State, 1/7/2016)

In Clinton’s July 2016 FBI interview, she will be asked about this email chain, which reached her on December 27, 2011. “Clinton stated no policy or practice existed related to communicating around holidays, and it was often necessary to communicate in code or do the best you could to convey the information considering the email system you were using. In reference to the same email, Clinton believed if the foreign press was to obtain information from that email, it would not cause damage to the US Government.”

It is impossible to judge the validity Clinton’s comments, since so much of the entire chain remains redacted. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

April 8, 2016: Sanders says he doesn’t criticize the Clinton Foundation or Clinton’s emails to avoid personal attacks.

In a CNN interview, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says that he is constantly asked by supporters why he doesn’t criticize Clinton more over the Clinton Foundation or the FBI’s Clinton investigation. “How often have I talked about Hillary Clinton’s emails? Have you heard me? Not a word. How often have I talked about the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising? Have you heard me say one word about it during the campaign? I am trying to stay away from personal attacks on Hillary.” (Real Clear Politics, 4/8/2016)

June 5, 2016: Sanders criticizes the Clinton Foundation.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is asked in an interview about the Clinton Foundation. He says, “If you ask me about the Clinton Foundation, do I have a problem when a sitting secretary of state and a foundation run by her husband collects many millions of dollars from foreign governments, many governments which are dictatorships? Yeah I do.” He points out the human rights violations of governments that have heavily donated to the foundation, such as Saudi Arabia. When asked if the foundation’s activities represent a potential conflict of interest, Sanders replies, “Yes, I do.” (Real Clear Politics, 6/5/2016)

Sanders had previously avoided criticizing the foundation. (Real Clear Politics, 4/8/2016)

June 8, 2016: Clinton claims the Clinton Foundation only made “one or two” disclosure mistakes.

Clinton interviewed by Anderson Cooper on June 8, 2016. (Credit: CNN)

Clinton interviewed by Anderson Cooper on June 8, 2016. (Credit: CNN)

CNN journalist Anderson Cooper asks Clinton, “[Republican presidential candidate Donald] Trump has said he is clearly going to focus on the Clinton Foundation. Last night he said the Russians, Saudis, Chinese all gave money to the foundation and got favorable treatment in return. The foundation has raised huge sums of money for worthy causes; it’s always not been transparent though. Tens of millions of dollars come from a Canadian partnership so that the donors could remain secret, [and] there was a large donation from Algeria not submitted to State Department for approval. If you are president, will your husband divest himself of any association with the foundation?”

Clinton replies, “We will cross that bridge if and when we come to it. Let me just try to set the record straight. We had absolutely overwhelming disclosure. Were there one or two instances that slipped through the cracks? Yes. But was the overwhelming amount of anything that anybody gave the foundation disclosed? Absolutely.”

When Cooper presses if Bill Clinton would step down from the foundation if Hillary is elected president, Hillary replies, “Again, I’m not going to consider anything until we see what the circumstances are.” (Real Clear Politics, 6/8/2016)

June 8, 2016: Clinton doesn’t remember signing an agreement that classified markings don’t matter.

Clinton interviewed by Brett Baier on June 8, 2016. (Credit: Fox News)

Clinton interviewed by Brett Baier on June 8, 2016. (Credit: Fox News)

Clinton is asked by Fox News host Bret Baier, “You said you sent or received nothing that was marked classified. But you did sign a nondisclosure agreement, an NDA, in 2009 that said markings don’t matter whether it’s marked or unmarked. Do you remember signing that?”

Clinton replies, “No, I do not. But the fact is, nothing that I sent or received was marked classified and nothing has been demonstrated to contradict that.” (Fox News, 6/8/2016) 

In fact, on January 22, 2009 and under penalty of perjury, Clinton did sign an NDA that stated, “classified Information is marked or unmarked classified Information.” (The Washington Post, 2/4/2016(US Department of State, 11/5/2015)

June 8, 2016: It remains unknown if the State Department’s legal office was aware of Clinton’s use of a private email server.

While deposed in a civil lawsuit by Judicial Watch, State Department official Karin Lang declines to say whether or not the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser was aware of Clinton’s private server. She also declines to say whether the department’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process or searches were adequate when Judicial Watch in 2013 requested records that could have included emails from Clinton.

Lang is accompanied by four lawyers for the State and Justice departments in the deposition, and they object that such questions violate attorney-client privilege or are a legal judgment. (The Washington Post, 6/8/2016)

June 10, 2016: The media’s focus on Trump lessens coverage about Clinton’s email scandal.

Chuck Todd (Credit: NBC)

Chuck Todd (Credit: NBC)

Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd says, “You know, ten days ago is when the [State Department] IG [inspector general] report came out on emails. The last ten days could have been about nothing but emails, nothing but negatives about Hillary Clinton. We could be talking about Democratic hand-wringing, but there’s Donald Trump. Enough said.”

Todd is referring to the way Republican presidential candidate Trump’s flamboyant manner and his own controversies dominate news coverage. (The Washington Examiner, 6/10/2016)