July 25, 2010: Clinton invites a US diplomat to discuss communications with foreign ministers with her using her private email address.

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Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini (top left) (Credit: European Press Agency), Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou (top right) (Credit: Greek Reporter), Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos (lower left) (Credit: 525-gi gazet), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (lower right) (Credit: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Clinton writes an email to former senator George J. Mitchell (D), who is the US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace at the time. The subject heading is “Here’s my personal email,” and the entire message is “Pls [Please] use this for reply–HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton].” (US Department of State, 9/30/2015) 

Mitchell replies, “I talked with Frattini again and went over the point again. He said he understands and agrees.” The rest of his email is later redacted because it contains “foreign government information.” “Frattini” is a likely reference to Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

Clinton replies, “I told Papandreou the same.” “Papandreou” is a likely reference to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. (US Department of State, 9/30/2015) 

Mitchell then discusses communicating with “Moratinos,” a likely reference to Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Clinton replies by mentioning a plan to call “Ashton,” a likely reference to the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and “Bibi,” the nickname of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (US Department of State, 9/30/2015) 

It is not clear why Clinton invites Mitchell to discuss such high-level diplomatic communications via her unsecure personal email address. In 2015, J. William Leonard, former director of the US Information Security Oversight Office, will make the general comment, “If a foreign minister just told the secretary of state something in confidence, by US rules that is classified at the moment it’s in US channels and US possession. […] It’s born classified.” (Reuters, 8/21/2015)

August 21, 2015: In many cases, information in Clinton’s emails were “born classified.”

That means they were classified from their creation. A Reuters analysis concludes, “In the small fraction of emails made public so far, Reuters has found at least 30 email threads from 2009, representing scores of individual emails, that include what the State Department’s own ‘classified’ stamps now identify as so-called ‘foreign government information.’ The US government defines this as any information, written or spoken, provided in confidence to US officials by their foreign counterparts.” Although unmarked, Reuters’ analysis suggests that these emails “were classified from the start.”

J. William Leonard, a former director of the NARA Information Security Oversight Office, said that such information is “born classified” and that “If a foreign minister just told the secretary of state something in confidence, by US rules that is classified at the moment it’s in US channels and US possession.” According to Reuters, the standard US government nondisclosure agreement “warns people authorized to handle classified information that it may not be marked that way and that it may come in oral form.”

The State Department disputes Reuters’ analysis but does not elaborate or explain why. (Reuters, 8/21/2015)