Abedin, Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, lists steps that include “increasing the number of hooches, and doubling up staff in lodging.” The email adds more details, for instance, “[W]e need to improve the security perimeter – acquiring property adjacent to our current facilities in Kabul, which is now difficult to secure.” In addition to mentioning information that could benefit attackers of the embassies, the email shows that Clinton was briefed on embassy security issues, despite her claim that she did not directly deal with such matters. (Politico, 10/30/2015)
Mere hours earlier, Kerry (D) met with Director General Ahmad Pasha, who is head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kayani, who is the head of Pakistan’s military. Kerry writes, “During a long dinner with [the generals] to discuss the major issues between our two countries and in the region, I specifically sought their views.” But almost all of the rest of his 17-page email will later be redacted, and will be deemed “secret,” the middle classification ranking.
Politico will later comment that this email plus two others could be “awkward” for Kerry, because “reports he sent Clinton about his diplomacy in Pakistan wound up in her private email account, which was not authorized to hold classified information.” (Politico, 2/29/2016)
On May 15, 2011, Senator John Kerry (D) emailed Clinton with details about a recent meeting he had with Pakistani generals Ahmad Pasha and Ashfaq Kayani, and his email will later be deemed “secret,” the middle level of classification. The next day, Clinton aide Jake Sullivan emails Clinton with the comment: “Cameron called me, hysterical, —” The rest of the sentence is redacted, then Sullivan adds, “This is likely what Kerry is calling about.” Clinton replies to Sullivan, “Can you get me facts (such as they are) before I talk [with] Kerry?” These two emails will also later be deemed “secret,” due to the redaction in Sullivan’s brief comment. (US Department of State, 2/13/2016)
It is not known who Cameron is. However, at the time, the US ambassador to Pakistan is Cameron Munter. (The Asia Times, 5/11/2012) Intriguingly, Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011, just two weeks earlier. Furthermore, in 2014, an article in the New York Times will claim that the US had direct evidence that Pasha, who is also head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, knew of Bin Laden’s presence there. The information is said to come from a “senior United States official.” (The New York Times, 3/19/2014)
In 2015, famed journalist Seymour Hersh will similarly claim that both Pasha and Kayani had been told of the planned US attack on bin Laden well in advance, and once they realized the US was going to kill him no matter what, they helped make sure the attack would succeed. (London Review of Books, 5/21/2015)
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)
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)
A State Department official emails a number of other US officials the transcript of a recent President Obama radio interview. The interview includes important comments on Pakistan, so some of the US officials sent the email are in Pakistan. Apparently, the name of one such recipient will later be redacted because that person is a secret CIA official.
The email is forwarded to Clinton aide Jake Sullivan, who forwards it to Clinton. (US Department of State, 1/7/2016)
On this day, Clinton takes part in a series of emails with Jake Sullivan, her top foreign policy aide. All the emails in the thread are classified a “secret,” which is the ranking below “top secret.” The entire exchange is redacted, except for the subject line: “Khar–where we are.”
Several days earlier, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar had requested that the US apologize for the death of 24 Pakistani troops in a NATO airstrike, so the emails presumably discuss how the US should react. Sullivan sends 215 classified emails to Clinton, more than anyone else. (The Washington Post, 3/5/2016)
Further emails in the chain will also be deemed “secret,” but in one of them, a mysterious comment Clinton makes to Sullivan will be declassified: “I’m even more determined to do this and have some ideas I want to discuss [with] you.” (US Department of State, 2/13/2016)
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)
The emails are sent in 2011 and 2012, the last two years of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, after a secret agreement that gave the State Department a say in whether a CIA drone strike took place. This is “according to Congressional and law-enforcement officials briefed” on the FBI’s investigation. Some emails were then forwarded to Clinton, despite her exclusive use of an unapproved private server for all her emails. The Journal cites one email chain from December 23, 2011 discussing a planned drone strike that was later released as one of Clinton’s emails but highly redacted.
However, out of Clinton’s 22 emails deemed “top secret,” the Journal claims that “many of them dealt with whether [State Department officials] concurred or not with the CIA drone strikes, Congressional and law-enforcement officials said.”
The Journal comments, “Beyond the [presidential] campaign implications, the investigation exposes the latest chapter in a power struggle that pits the enforcers of strict secrecy, including the FBI and CIA, against some officials at the State Department and other agencies who want a greater voice in the use of lethal force around the globe, because of the impact it has on broader U.S. policy goals.” (The Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2016)
The Journal does not question why Clinton and her staff did not use other options, such as secure phone lines, instead of personal smart phones for quick communication.
But a few days later, former NSA John Schindler will comment, “As the secretary of state, Ms. Clinton and her top staff had access to classified communications systems 24 hours a day. They chose not to use them here—a choice that clearly violated federal law.” (The New York Observer, 6/15/2016)