Hillary Clinton’s email scandal has dogged her for months. Now that the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state has ended with no charges being filed, many Americans wonder whether she should lose her security clearance.
The truth is, it would be a moot point if elected. U.S. presidents do not have to go through a security screening process, and they do not hold a security clearance. Reasons of national security would not prevent the president of the United States from viewing any government or military information he (or she, potentially) asked for.
Clinton has held a top-secret clearance for years in her capacity as secretary of state and as a New York senator who was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Talk related to whether her clearance should be revoked stems from FBI Director James Comey’s statement in July that outlined the results of a yearlong investigation into whether classified information was transmitted to and from Clinton via her private email server.
“Although Clinton’s ability to access pertinent information isn’t in jeopardy should she win the election on Nov. 8, Comey’s comments are worth discussing,” said security clearance lawyer Catie Young. “It’s possible that the outcome in a similar situation could play out differently, so it’s valuable for a security clearance holder to consider what happened in this case and avoid making the same mistakes.”
Here is what Comey said in his statement on July 5: “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they (staff and Clinton) were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
The FBI investigated about 30,000 emails provided to the State Department by Clinton in 2013. In those emails, Comey said seven email chains contained information classified as “top secret- special access program” at the time they were sent and received. Another 110 email chains were determined to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight email chains contained information that was classified top-secret at the time they were sent or received. Thirty-six email chains contained secret information, and eight contained confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification.
About 2,000 additional emails were “up-classified” to make them confidential after they were sent or received. This means they hadn’t been classified at the time they were sent or received.
The FBI found several thousand work-related emails that weren’t among those returned by Clinton in 2013. They were found by reviewing archived government accounts of other agency officials. Two of those contained information that was classified secret, and two were classified confidential at the time they were sent or received.
“There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position or in the position of those with whom she was corresponding about those matters should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation,” Comey said.
He went on to say that none of these emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, “but their presence is especially concerning because all of these emails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff like those found at agencies and departments of the U.S. government, or even with a commercial email service like Gmail.”
Many of the emails were specifically marked as classified. However, the lack of markings doesn’t absolve a security clearance holder from his/her requirement to protect the information, Comey said. People who know or should know the subject matter is classified still are obligated to protect it.
Comey said that even though the FBI found evidence of potential violations of statutes governing the handling of classified information, “our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” because prosecutors must consider the strength of the evidence, the context of one’s actions, and the manner in which similar situations have been handled in the past.
Past prosecuted cases included:
- Clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information
- Vast quantities of information exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct
- Indications of disloyalty to the United States
- Efforts to obstruct justice
“We do not see those things here,” Comey said.
This line by Comey is why we encourage all security clearance holders to pay attention to this case, as it suggests that another person in a similar situation may not receive the same favorable result:
“To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that’s not what we’re deciding now.”
This news story is a good reminder to all security clearance holders to be diligent in protecting the sensitive information with which they come into contact, and to not become complacent by taking shortcuts or using alternative communication avenues out of convenience.