November 4, 2005: State Department policy decrees day-to-day operations are to be done on government servers.

US State Department headquarters in Washington, DC.

State Department headquarters in Washington, DC. (Credit: AgnosticPreachersKid)

The State Department decrees that “sensitive but unclassified” information should not be transmitted through personal email accounts. It also states, “It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized [government server], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication, and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information.” (US Department of State, 1/12/2016) (The Washington Post, 3/10/2015)

The department’s regulations also require that “Departing officials must ensure that all record material that they possess is incorporated in the Department’s official files and that all file searches for which they have been tasked have been completed, such as those required to respond to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act], Congressional, or litigation-related document requests. Fines, imprisonment, or both may be imposed for the willful and unlawful removal or destruction of records as stated in the US Criminal Code (e.g., 18 U.S.C., section 2071).” (US Department of State, 8/17/2007)

August 2008: State Department rules prohibit the way some sensitive information will later be used on Clinton’s private server.

According to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), department employees are allowed to send most Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information unencrypted over the Internet only when necessary.

In August 2008, the FAM is amended to further toughen the rules on sending SBU information on non-department-owned systems at non-departmental facilities – such as Clinton’s later use of a private email server. Employees have to:

  • ensure that SBU information is encrypted
  • destroy SBU information on their personally owned and managed computers and removable media when the files are no longer required
  • implement encryption certified by the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST)

The FBI will later determine that SBU information was frequently and knowingly sent to and from Clinton’s private server, but none of these steps were taken. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

April 10, 2011: An email forwarded to Clinton appears to contain the most recent US military intelligence, which should have been classified.

US Ambassador Christopher Stevens. He dies from smoke asphyxiation on September 11, 2012, due to a terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. (Credit: Reuters)

US Ambassador Christopher Stevens. He dies from smoke asphyxiation on September 11, 2012, due to a terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. (Credit: Reuters)

The email discusses the current security situation in Libya. It says that due to violence in the town of Ajdabiyah, US Special Envoy Christopher Stevens “is considering departure from Benghazi.” It also discusses Stevens’ concerns about departing and it details the “phased checkout” of Stevens’ staff from the area, possibly in a few hours. Additionally, it contains the latest secret intelligence from AFRICOM (US Africa Command, the US military in Africa), detailing nearby troop movements in the Libyan civil war that could threaten Stevens and his staff. Tim Davis, a special assistant to Clinton, writes the email and then sends it to Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who forwards it to Clinton. Davis marks it “SBU,” which means “sensitive but unclassified.” The email will be released to the public in full on May 13, 2015.

However, the State Department’s inspector general will later conclude that the email should not have been made public without redactions. Furthermore, in August 2015, an unnamed government official familiar with the investigation into Clinton’s emails will tell CBS News that at least the part of the email containing current military intelligence should have been marked classified at the time. Additionally, because that information originated from the military, the State Department did not have the right to declassify it at the time it was sent or later. The unnamed official will say that this kind of mistake is not unusual for State Department officials when they discuss information from multiple sources, but the difference is that this email is stored on Clinton’s private server, which can be easily hacked or monitored. (CBS News, 8/19/2015) (US Department of State, 5/13/2015

In 2015, Fox News will claim that the email contained intelligence from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which oversees satellite imagery. Furthermore, “all three agencies confirmed to the intelligence community inspector general that the intelligence was classified when it was sent four years ago by Abedin to Clinton’s private account, and remains classified to this day.” (Fox News, 8/26/2015) Even though the email will be made public in full in May 2015, it will be reclassified as “secret” in September 2015. “Secret” is the medium level of classification, below “top secret.” (The New York Times, 9/30/2015)

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)