- - Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Last Friday was getaway day for a three-day holiday weekend as a Gulf hurricane was making landfall in Florida. So we had every right to expect a significant dump of controversial documents by the federal government while we were so distracted.

We were not disappointed. On Friday afternoon the FBI released a detailed report of its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, including a summary of her interview with FBI agents (the so-called “302”).

I have previously said that the real “sin” in the email/private server debacle was the “original sin.” Once you set it up this way, it would inevitably break bad. No one needed to be stupid, weak or corrupt (to use a few of Donald Trump’s favorite words) for this to end up in a bad place.

The press of business, the pace of events, the demands of travel would lead to hasty decisions, sloppy composition and bad judgments. Things would show up in the emails that just shouldn’t be there.

I know of no government official who would welcome an army of inspectors general combing through four years of emails on their unclassified accounts. That’s why they use government accounts, where the government remains responsible for security, and they don’t mingle personal correspondence with official. That’s also why anyone with experience in these matters would label the Clinton setup as downright inconceivable. And that was it as far as I was concerned. Really bad decision, predictable results the end.

Until I read the 302. That revealed at least two instances that troubled me even further.

In one: “When asked what the parenthetical ‘C’ meant before a paragraph within the captioned email, Clinton stated she did not know and could only speculate it was referencing paragraphs marked in alphabetical order.”

Really? The “302” is a summary of the interview, not a transcript, but one hopes that the FBI then asked whether there were also paragraphs (A) or (B) embedded in the email. And that they then went on to ask whether, in reading the thousands of classified documents that must have crossed her desk, Mrs. Clinton had noticed that practically every paragraph was preceded by a parenthetical (C), (S) or (TS) and what she thought those markings might have meant.

They may indeed have asked that, because the 302 goes on to point out that Mrs. Clinton “could not say for sure if the parenthetical ‘C’ is used for portion marking classified documents.”

In a further attempt at extenuation, Mrs. Clinton said the email in question was essentially a “condolence call,” and she questioned the classification level. My life experience confirms that the U.S. government frequently overclassifies data. But that’s a stronger argument for not dumping large volumes of government traffic on an unclassified personal server than it is a justification for retroactively challenging classification decisions.

Then there was a significant discussion in the 302 about drone strikes and what can be said about them. Here I sympathize with Mrs. Clinton’s dilemma. So much about American targeted killings is “known,” even if much has never been officially acknowledged by the U.S. government. That minefield has been made even more treacherous by official but anonymous sources leaking data to take credit for important kills.

So I get it when Mrs. Clinton complains that “State did the best they could to not confirm drone strikes and were as candid as possible, but had to deal with a ‘rash’ of news reports on drones.”

But the 302 goes further and talks about chatter on prospective drone strikes in the emails. “Clinton stated deliberation over a future drone strike did not give her cause for concern regarding classification. Clinton understood this type of conversation as part of the routine deliberations process. Moreover, she recalled many conversations about future strikes that never occurred.”

This is decidedly not routine. In fact, the casual appearance of prospective operations in unclassified emails is quite stunning although — to be fair — the emails themselves (and even the references to them in the 302) are so redacted that the exact degree of disclosure is hard to determine.

Mrs. Clinton’s defense — that many of the discussed strikes never occurred — is also stunning. It’s not quite as bad as saying that it would have been OK for Marshall and Eisenhower in early 1944 to debate over an open line whether to land in Europe at Normandy or Pas de Calais because, after all, we ultimately didn’t land at Pas de Calais. Not quite as bad, but still hard to fathom. Uncertain and unclassified are two different things.

I signed a letter last month with 49 other officials who have served in Republican administrations. We all said Donald Trump was unfit for the presidency. He still is. But many of us also insisted in the letter that this not be read as an endorsement of Mrs. Clinton.

Recently in this space I said that even though I could not vote for him, I would not vote for her. That still holds. In fact, the revelations of the past week make that latter position even more certain.

Gen. Michael Hayden is a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency. He can be reached at mhayden@washingtontimes.com.

• Mike Hayden can be reached at mhayden@example.com.

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