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)

January 30, 2016: Former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey explains how classified information is kept separate.

This photo of a secret government facility shows how information of different classification levels reside on different systems on different computers, to prevent cross over. (Credit: Director of National Intelligence and Special Security Office)

This photo of a secret government facility shows how information of different classification levels reside on different systems on different computers, to prevent cross over. (Credit: Director of National Intelligence and Special Security Office)

Mukasey is asked if classified markings on Clinton’s “top secret” emails would have been removed before being emailed to Clinton. He replies, “Well, the documents originated someplace. They didn’t drop in from Mars. The person who originated them necessarily put classified markings on them… Now how did the markings get off? […] [There] is very particular language relating to the fact that there are three communication systems within the government. Non-secure, SIPR [Secret Internet Protocol Router Network or SIPRNet] or secure, and the highest, which is JWICS [Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System]. The information from SIPR and from JWICS cannot move on the low end system, and if you put anything on there that’s got those markings on it, it essentially sets off an alarm that alerts people involved with security.”

He concludes, “[I]f she has signals intelligence or information from a human source that is obviously confidential and secret and relates to intelligence activities of the United States abroad, she’d have to have been a low grade moron in order to not know that it’s classified.” (CNN, 1/30/2016)