Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has repeatedly claimed that she never sent or received information as US secretary of state that was marked classified at the time.
It may not matter.
There is more evidence that the information Clinton sent and received on her private server was automatically classified during her time as secretary of state – even though it wasn’t marked classified until this year.
“That is because under federal law, information is classified by nature, not by marking,” Sean Davis of The Federalist writes. “As a result, federal classification authorities deemed that the information was classified the very second it originated, even if it was not marked as such until August 27, 2015.”
In August, Reuters reported that Clinton’s emails contained “a type of information the US government and the department’s own regulations automatically deems classified from the get-go – regardless of whether it is already marked that way or not.”
Davis, a former Senate staffer who worked for then-Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), looked at the 125 public classified emails sent or received by Clinton during her time as secretary of state and published several that were classified this way.
Reuters cited at least 30 emails made public that contained “foreign government information” – any information, written or spoken, provided in confidence to US officials by their foreign counterparts – which must be “presumed” classified.
“It’s born classified,” said J. William Leonard, a former director of the US government’s Information Security Oversight Office in the White House’s National Archives and Records Administration from 2002 to 2008.
“If a foreign minister just told the secretary of state something in confidence, by US rules that is classified at the moment it’s in US channels and US possession,” added Leonard, who worked for both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
Among the 7,121 pages of emails the State Department made public Monday, 125 emails were retroactively marked classified and consequently contain redacted content.
The Federalist points out that emails containing redacted information are marked with a redaction code, indicating the nature of the redacted content. For example, “1.4(D)” indicates the content has to do with “foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.”
Next to that code is a declassification date. That date is usually 10 to 15 years from the time the classified information originated in the email – not from the time authorities got around to marking it as classified.
- State Department
For example, one July 2010 email sent by Clinton has a declassification date of July 2025. This, Davis claims, is significant because it indicates that the information in the email was classified at the time it originated and not at the time it was marked.
Davis also claims that several of the declassification dates imply that information Clinton sent and received was classified from the beginning, even if it wasn’t marked.
And it couldn’t have been marked anyway, Davis argues, as “the nature of Hillary’s secret, off-books private email scheme made it impossible for government authorities to mark as classified any information that originated on Hillary’s private server, since they had no access to it.”
The FBI has reportedly tasked its “A-team” with investigating Clinton’s server due to the “extremely serious” nature of the inquiry. The investigation is being run out of the FBI’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, and was reportedly prompted by two emails sent to Clinton that contained information classified as “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information,” which is among the government’s highest levels of classification.
Clinton’s unusual email system was originally set up by a staffer during Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. It replaced another private server used by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
The new server was run by Bryan Pagliano, who had worked as the IT director on Hillary Clinton’s campaign before joining the State Department in May 2009. In 2013 – the same year she left the State Department – Clinton hired a small Denver-based IT firm named Platte River Networks to oversee the system.
Investigators are looking into the configuration of the server as well as whether any sensitive information was stored on the server after it was handed over to Platte River, which is “not cleared” to have access to classified material.