By John F. Di Leo -
For over a year, the press has been minimizing its coverage of the Hillary Clinton email server issue, as Congress and the conservative media have been trying to get to the truth of the matter.
The facts, as shared, are simple enough: As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton chose to violate the law and route all of her email traffic, both personal and work-related, through a private email server in her home in Chappaqua, New York. This kept the emails out of the security and record retention protocols of the federal government, and potentially added an additionally severe crime if any of those emails were classified.
As the Clinton gang has parsed, and dissembled, and – oh, the heck with it – outright lied, they have tried to give the impression that there was no classified material on the email traffic that the Secretary of State had for four years. When some emails were finally found that were marked, in the subject line, as classified, the Clinton gang spun it to say that shouldn’t count because those were incoming emails, not outgoing, and therefore not her fault (as if anyone on earth shouldn’t be able to assume that the email address of a Secretary of State would obviously be a secure line).
But even so, they all miss the point. On both sides of the debate, in fact, people are missing the point, perhaps because many don’t fully realize what the role of the Secretary of State is.
It’s conceivable – not likely, but conceivable – that a Secretary of Education, or Energy, or maybe even Veterans Affairs, could go four years without having any classified emails. It’s possible. But she was a Secretary of State. And what does a Secretary of State do, in his or her daily life?
The State Department issues passports to US citizens, and authorizes and monitors international travel of American passport holders. While this is rarely particularly secret, if there’s a challenge that needs to go to the Secretary, it would be.
During her four year term, she had to encounter occasions when the department needed her approval to grant a passport to someone of unproven citizenship, or a felon or suspected-felon on a no-travel order, or a person in a witness protection program, or agents with security clearances, etc. Such issues would have needed her sign-off, and most such discussions would have been classified, some at the highest level.
The State Department manages inbound visas for foreigners. If they wind up wanting to stay here, the responsibility is transferred to Homeland Security. But the question of granting visas – work visas, tourist visas, political sanctuary visas, etc. – is a matter for State. Again, these are normally not classified, and would not require escalation to a Cabinet Secretary.
But what of the ones that do? If a visa question goes to the Secretary – politically oppressed people in Russia or China or the middle east, for example, whether dissidents or just victims of homicidal rebellions like ISIS – then such discussions would be secret; the people’s lives would be in jeopardy if it were known at home that they were trying to escape to the United States. Any communications about such questions that reach the Secretary would have to be classified.
The Embassy Archipelago
There are United States Embassies and Consulates all over the world, located in friendly nations, unfriendly nations, and everything in between. State manages and staffs these locations, appointing ambassadors and other employees of the foreign service.
While most embassies and consulates include a commercial side (such as an office of the Department of Commerce for import/export outreach and support), the sites are still operated by State. There are often military and security aspects to these locations as well – a few marines, a few security personnel from other agencies, either publicly acknowledged or clandestine.
Normal staffing matters – “we’re transferring a clerk from the embassy in London to the embassy in Paris” – might not have to be classified, but then, they wouldn’t be escalated to the Secretary anyway.
What about the less normal staffing matters? What about questions regarding interdepartmental cooperation, like when the CIA asks to put someone in an embassy for a while, or when an ambassador is meeting with a political opposition group or minority, and needs guidance on what American policy supports or opposes? What about when a prisoner release or exchange is being negotiated, and the Ambassador needs to know what he can or can’t trade?
These are the questions that would make it to the Secretary… and these are the ones that would be classified.
The Export Controls regime of the United States is primarily split between two departments – State and Commerce. While Commerce handles most controls on dual-use items (such as products that have a legitimate civilian purpose, but could also be abused for chemical or biological weapon proliferation), the State Department handles everything covered by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), in association with the United States Munitions List (USML).
Weapons, weapon parts, and almost anything customized for military use – plus the plans and blueprints, technical specs, molds and dies for manufacturing such things – are therefore controlled by the State Department.
If a defense contractor – say, Northrup Grummon, Honeywell, Ball, General Dynamics, and hundreds of others – is considering outsourcing one of the parts to one of their foreign plants, or is considering selling the parts to one of our allies, they must apply for an export license from State.
Everything about these export license applications – particularly the technology, is confidential. When a question arises that needs the Secretary’s decision, that email traffic has to be secure. Our enemies are always trying to get their hands on our defense technology; emails discussing who makes what and how, and who they can share information with and where, are of course classified, or our entire U.S. export control regime is utterly porous.
One of the key Constitutional responsibilities of the Executive branch is the negotiation of treaties with foreign governments. The Secretary of State negotiates with the President’s guidance, and then the President submits it to the Senate for their approval or rejection (and, contrary to the practices of the current administration, that’s the only legal way they can be managed).
Some such treaties could, conceivably, be managed without some degree of confidentiality, but not often. Normally, such treaties – especially since, nowadays, they concern arms control and nuclear non-proliferation efforts – are negotiated based on our own top secret information about what the enemy really has, and what we are really willing to consider giving up.
Such information, of necessity, is obviously confidential. We cannot allow the enemy – or a third party – to obtain our plans, our internal discussions, our behind-the-scenes evaluations as such treaty negotiations are going on… or for that matter, for many years afterward!
During Hillary Clinton’s tenure at State, there was saber-rattling and more from North Korea and Red China, the virtual evacuation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a string of revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East.
Under the normal rules governing federal government communications, it is inconceivable that the vast majority of emails that reached the level of Secretary involvement wouldn’t have been classified.
As long as the United States of America have served as a City on the Hill for the rest of the world to emulate, our nation has been a beacon of freedom, seeking out information about foreign prostitution rings, human trafficking organizations, foreign crime gangs, and every other violation of basic human rights that we see on the international news from across the globe.
The State Department applies pressure to foreign governments to stand up to such organizations, attempting to encourage third world governments to bear down on the often politically-connected criminals within their own borders, sometimes organizations that own a few magistrates or legislators themselves.
Such pressure is a delicate matter, often based on secret discussions by our clandestine agents, local whistle-blowers, or relatives of relatives in-country. Such documentation naturally must be secret to protect the individuals reporting the matter.
And when they reach the desk of the Secretary, it is again inconceivable that the vast majority of such communications wouldn’t be classified.
Lunch and Dinner
These are only the most obviously serious of the many matters that the State Department handles. There are countless more, as the leviathan has grown - and each cabinet department with it - in over two centuries of expansion.
But the secrecy of a Secretary’s email is not limited to the obviously classified. We must remember that a Secretary of State is fourth in line to the Presidency, and therefore has security concerns that you and I don’t have to worry about.
If Hillary Clinton was flying through Chicago to attend her high school reunion, she might have planned a lunch with an old friend… if she flew through Los Angeles on her way to the Far East, she might have planned a shopping trip on Rodeo Drive… if she flew through London on her way to a summit in Europe, she might plan a secret meeting while in town with the British Foreign Minister, or perhaps with some foreign exile who’s hiding in London due to a fatwa.
While the latter would likely be designed with top security, the former might make security challenging. A famous restaurant in Chicago or shop in L.A. can be secured on the spot, but not if an enemy has a week to prepare.
So it is that even the lunch plans and dinner plans of a U.S. Secretary of State are – and must be – confidential matters. Outside of publicly announced events, such as press conferences, summits, and speaking engagements, a Secretary of State’s schedule must be tightly controlled, with as much of it as possible kept unknown to any but the participants.
A Secretary of State is no longer an individual private citizen; he or she is a negotiator with foreign countries, many of whom want us – or our allies – to be evaporated, and would stop at nothing to gain the advantage in their effort. And again, that Secretary is fourth in line to the Presidency. Particularly in a post-9/11 world, we must take such issues seriously.
It Strains Credulity
And yet, in light of everything we know about the office of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton expects us to believe that in four years, she never had an email that was classified… or if one came in that was, she shouldn’t be blamed because it was just inbound, not outbound, as if anyone communicating with a United States Secretary of State shouldn’t be able to safely assume that her communications are secure!
In point of fact… virtually HER ENTIRE JOB was classified. For four years, almost everything she did, almost everything that crossed her desk, had to be recognized as some degree of secrecy, anywhere from a low-level confidentiality to a top secret status.
As we have seen, the State Department may indeed do many things that don’t require confidentiality, but none of them would have often reached the desk of the Secretary. Of those things that did, about the only ones that weren’t classified might have been her attendance at the occasional foreign funeral. Other than that, practically everything she touched had to be sensitive.
In all this time, the spin has been that nothing she did was classified, so to search for an email that was indeed classified was bound to be a matter of looking for a needle in a haystack.
Ridiculous. In all likelihood, many thousands of the emails were classified – or should have been, and would have been in any sane and competent administration – and that's why they scrubbed the server so hard.
It's virtually impossible for it to be otherwise, unless she slept through her entire tenure in the job.
And whatever she did, to the detriment of the United States and the world, we know that she most certainly did not do that.
Copyright 2015 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based international trade compliance trainer. A 1984 graduate of Northwestern University, his major in Political Science included a specialty in American and National Politics. Though he didn’t specialize in international relations, he confirms that every political science major in the past fifty years knows what a Secretary of State is responsible for. Even the kids who slept through class had to absorb this much.
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