- - Thursday, August 13, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Hillary Clinton has a suitability problem – but I don’t mean her famous pantsuit collection. The latest revelations about the TOP SECRET emails discovered on her supposedly unclassified private server create immediate and ominous questions about her character. After she has repeatedly lied, dissembled and deceived about protecting our most vital national secrets, what does that say about her suitability to retain a security clearance, let alone to run for the highest office in the land?

Having spent most of my military career as an intelligence officer, I was appalled to read Rowan Scarborough’s revelation’s in yesterday’s Times that Mrs. Clinton’s “private emails contained sensitive information derived from spy satellites and signal intelligence.” Even worse was the specific designation of codeword material “TOP SECRET/SI/TK/NOFORN” in the cover memo concerning those emails sent to Congress on August 11 by the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community. Forget about the lesser issue of mishandling classified documents. What possible malfeasance and reckless disregard for basic security procedures led Ms. Clinton into this debacle? Are Federal penitentiaries reserved only for “little people?” Or is she “too big to jail?”

Mrs. Clinton’s contention that she was unaware that the information on her private server was classified is simply idiotic. She was granted access to that information only after passing an exhaustive personnel investigation focused on the all-important question of suitability. She then had to endure “indoctrination,” a series of detailed security briefings deliberately designed to be terrifying. Thirty years later, I can still remember mine, when a grim-faced warrant officer had me read each page of the TOP SECRET briefing and then had me sign in blood that I understood its restrictions. Finally, I was required to swear up, down and sideways never to reveal either this sensitive intelligence or the expensive, hi-tech systems that had collected it.

“Captain, you seem like a nice young fellow. So I just want to make sure you understand that Uncle Sam will do whatever it takes to lock you away if you EVER compromise this information, accidentally or on purpose. Because we are just as serious as a heart attack about safeguarding this nation’s secrets, understand?”

I certainly did back then. One of my friends still tells the story about being assigned to courier duty for NSA, the keeper of all those SI/TK/NOFORN secrets. Couriers were required to sign for a locked briefcase, handcuffed to their wrist, before travelling from NSA headquarters to whatever top-level official was authorized to read those precious TOP SECRET contents. While en route, my friend got a call from his wife, then carefully timing her monthly ovulation cycle. He stopped at home just long enough to be present for the conception of their child, the briefcase still securely handcuffed to his right wrist. He then delivered the briefcase to its intended recipient while, nine months later, his wife delivered their son (appropriately named Lefty).

Everywhere else in government, except on Hillary Clinton’s server, secret information is handled with rigor and accountability, a tacit acknowledgment of both the Espionage Laws and the need for high-level stewardship. While daily comparisons are being drawn to other notorious counter-intelligence cases – like General David Petraeus and former Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy Berger – each of those examples involved a relatively small number of classified documents. With Secretary Clinton, however, the potential downside risk involves hundreds and maybe even thousands of documents, either on thumb drives or that infamous private server. So is Ms Clinton’s compromise of secrets best compared to David Petraeus – or to Edward Snowden?

Right now, we simply don’t know. How many documents may be involved, at what levels of classification and how can we even estimate the most likely damage to American national security? Another fellow intelligence officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, points out that the Clinton server has likely “been scrubbed cleaner than any hospital operating room by the best techies money can buy.” True enough – but necessarily raising the specter of obstruction of justice to the growing list of potentially indictable offenses.

No matter how you may try to minimize it, the issue of Hillary Clinton’s basic suitability for higher office has now landed squarely on the 2016 campaign agenda. It is as if the hapless captain of the late, great Costa Concordia, rather than being indicted and tried for hazarding his vessel and jeopardizing the lives of his passengers, should be nominated for command of the Italian Merchant Marine or as Ministerio del Turismo.

It is all confirmation of Monica Crowley’s recent observation that the Clinton debacle reflects President Obama’s cold calculus that his former SECSTATE is toast. Why else would these old stories now be coming to light?

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel, is a military analyst and author on national-security issues.

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