Clinton aide Jake Sullivan sends Clinton a forward of a Reuters article explaining how former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa has just defected to Britain and will be talking to British intelligence. The article will not be redacted later, but all of the extensive comments by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will be. Then Clinton adds three lines of commentary that also will be totally redacted. Her email will later be deemed “secret,” which is the middle level of classification. (US Department of State, 2/29/2016)
Clinton’s deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin sends an email to another close Clinton staffer discuss Clinton’s concern that someone has been “hacking into her email” after she received an email with a suspicious link to a website with pornographic material.
The FBI will later report, “There is no additional information as to why Clinton was concerned about someone hacking into her email account or if the specific link referenced by Abedin was used as a vector to infect Clinton’s device…”
Several hours later, Clinton receives an email from the personal account of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns that also has a link to a suspect website.
The next day, Clinton emails Burns: “Is this really from you? I was worried about opening it!” Department policy requires employees to report suspicious cybersecurity incidents to security officials. However, a 2016 State Department inspector general’s investigative report will find no evidence that Clinton or her staff reports this incident to anyone else within the department. It is unknown if either hacking attack is successful, since the incidents were not investigated at the time. (US Department of State, 5/25/2016) (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)
The FBI will later be unable to determine if Clinton ever opened the attachment. But “Open source information indicated, if opened, the targeted user’s device may have been infected, and information would have been sent to at least three computers overseas, including one in Russia.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)
In March 2011, a State Department security official warned Clinton and others that there was a dramatic increase in attempts “to compromise the private home email accounts of senior Department officials. […] Specifically, the actors are sending cleverly forged emails to victims’ private web-based accounts… These ‘spear phishing’ messages appear to be sent by US government officials but are designed to trick recipients into activating embedded malicious code by clicking on an attachment or link. […] We urge Department users to minimize the use of personal web email for business…” (US Department of State, 11/5/2015) Despite such warnings and incidents, Clinton continues to exclusively use a private email address for all her work and personal emails.
In July 2016, the State Department will reveal some limited details about 22 “top secret” emails involving Clinton. One email chain is sent sometime in 2012, and involves two “top secret” emails. The chain begins with an email written by an unnamed State Department official to other unnamed department officials. It makes its way to Sullivan, who forwards it to Clinton, Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills, and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. Clinton then replies to Sullivan. Then there’s another back and forth between Clinton and Sullivan. The contents of the emails remain unknown. (Vice News, 7/22/2016)
Clinton sends an email to former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, former Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, State Department official Jeffrey Feltman, Clinton’s former deputy chief of staff Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s former chief of staff Cheryl Mills, and Clinton’s deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin. Many of the email recipients continue to advise Clinton after leaving the department at the same time she did, around February 2013.
In the email, Clinton recalls “remember how after US signed 123 deal [with] UAE [the United Arab Emirates] and we were in Abu Dhabi [the capital of the UAE].” This is a reference to a 2009 pact between the US and the UAE to share nuclear energy information and materials, with the UAE also agreeing not to pursue building a nuclear weapon. Much of the rest of the email is unintelligible because it is heavily redacted for containing information that is later considered classified, at the “confidential” level.
The email will be made public in August 2016 due to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents sent by Clinton after her tenure as secretary of state ended to officials still at the State Department. This is the only email in response to the FOIA request sent or received by Clinton later deemed classified.
Department spokesperson John Kirby will later comment: “I am not going to speak to the content but I would point you to that one of the FOIA exemptions here we used was 1.4B which is foreign government information. And as we previously explained, while foreign government information may be protected from public release, both the executive order on classification and the foreign affairs manual acknowledge that foreign government information can often be maintained on unclassified systems.” (NBC News, 9/1/2016) (US Department of State, 6/26/2016)
As part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by Vice News reporter Jason Leopold, the State Department reveals more information about seven chains of 22 “top secret” emails involving Clinton. (Curiously, FBI Director James Comey mentioned on July 5, 2016 that there actually were eight “top secret” email chains, but the eighth chain is not mentioned by the department.)
The contents of the emails remain totally classified, but previous media reports indicate that most of them discussed approval for covert CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, and some of them may have identified CIA operatives working undercover.
For the first time, the department reveals which years the emails were sent and who sent and received them. All the emails were from 2011 or 2012 – the State Department began to have a say in approving CIA drone strikes in 2011. Nine of the emails were written by Clinton, and the other thirteen were written by her aide Jake Sullivan. Two were also cc’d by Sullivan to her chief of staff Cheryl Mills and/or Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.
The State Department disclosure comes in the form of a “Vaughn Index,” which is a document used by government departments in FOIA lawsuits to justify the withholding of information under various FOIA exemptions. Vaughn Indexes contain at least some information about the withheld text, to justify keeping it redacted, but this one does not. Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, says that according to government regulations, “State’s document does not fulfill the requirements for a Vaughn index.” (Vice News, 7/22/2016) (The Hill, 7/22/2016)