The Leak Hypocrisy of the Hillary Shadow Cabinet

In what has become a serial event, the State Department and Intelligence Community people handling Jason Leopold’s FOIA of Hillary Clinton emails have declared yet more emails to be Top Secret.

The furor over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account grew more serious for the Democratic presidential front-runner Friday as the State Department designated 22 of the messages from her account “top secret.”

It was the first time State has formally deemed any of Clinton’s emails classified at that level, reserved for information that can cause “exceptionally grave” damage to national security if disclosed.

State did not provide details on the subject of the messages, which represent seven email chains and a total of 37 pages. However, State spokesman John Kirby said they are part of a set the intelligence community inspector general told Congress contained information classified for discussing “Special Access Programs.”

Now, as I have said before, one thing that is going on here is that CIA is acting just like CIA always does when it declares publicly known things, including torture and drones, to be highly secret. It appears likely that these Top Secret emails are yet another set of emails about the worst kept secret in the history of covert programs, CIA’s drone killing in Pakistan. And so I am sympathetic, in principle, to Hillary’s campaign claims that this is much ado about nothing.

But they might do well to find some other spokesperson to claim that this is just overclassification run amok.

“This is overclassification run amok. We adamantly oppose the complete blocking of the release of these emails,” campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said on Twitter. Appearing on MSNBC after the news broke, Fallon vowed to fight the decision.

“You have the intelligence community, including an Intelligence Community Inspector General, as well as the inspector general at the State Department, that have been insisting on certain ways of deciding what is classified and what’s not,” he said. “We know that there has been disagreement on these points, and it has spilled out into public view at various points over the last several months. It now appears that some of the loudest voices in this interagency review that had some of the strongest straightjacket-type opinions on what should count as classified, have prevailed. That’s unfortunate. We strongly disagree with the finding that has been reached today, and we are going to be contesting it and seeking to have these emails released.”

Alternately Hillary can declare that if she is elected, she’ll pardon both Jeffrey Sterling and Chelsea Manning.

Sterling’s prosecution for, in part, having 3 documents about dialing a rotary phone in his home that were retroactively classified Secret, happened while Brian Fallon presided over DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs; Fallon sat by as James Risen got questioned about his refusal to testify. Sterling’s retention of documents that weren’t marked Secret is surely the same kind of “overclassification run amok,” and by the same agency at fault here, that Fallon is now complaining about. So shouldn’t Fallon and Clinton be discussing a pardon for Sterling?

Then there’s Manning. As Glenn Greenwald noted, in that case Clinton had a different attitude about the sensitivity of documents classified Secret or less.

Manning was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison. At the time, the only thing Hillary Clinton had to say about that was to issue a sermon about how classified information “deserves to be protected and we will continue to take necessary steps to do so” because it “affect[s] the security of individuals and relationships.”

So if the nation’s secrets aren’t really as secret as DOJ and State and DOD have claimed, shouldn’t these two, along with people like Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, be pardoned?

Amid Fallon and Clinton’s prior support for this level of classification, there’s something else odd about the response to this scandal (which I have said is largely misplaced from the stupid decision to run her own server to the issue of classified information).

First, the response from many supporters — and it’s a point I’ve made too — is that this doesn’t reflect on Hillary because she mostly just received these emails, she didn’t send them. That’s true. And it largely limits any legal liability Hillary herself would have.

But this particular response comes against the backdrop of Hillary attacking Bernie for not giving a foreign policy speech before Iowa (a critique I’m somewhat sympathetic with, although debates have been focused on it), and against this approving story in the Neocon press on Hillary forming a shadow cabinet.

Team Hillary is in the process of setting up formal advisory teams and working groups divided into regional and thematic subjects, similar to the structure of the National Security Council, several participants in the project told me. Unlike in 2008, when Clinton and Barack Obama competed for advisers, this time around all the Democratic foreign-policy types are flocking to her team because Clinton is the only game in town.

The groups report up to the campaign’s senior foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, who was Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and director of policy planning when she was secretary of state.

As it notes, this shadow cabinet reports to Jake Sullivan. Sullivan is, according to one report, the staffer who sent the most emails that have since been declared classified.

Nearly a third of the classified messages released so far from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s emails came from one man: Jake Sullivan, who served as her deputy chief of staff in the department, and is now the top foreign policy adviser to her presidential campaign.

If Hillary’s supporters argue that she can’t be held responsible because she didn’t send these, does that mean they would hold Sullivan, Hillary’s presumptive National Security Advisor, responsible instead?

Then there’s this detail about outside advisors to this shadow cabinet: it includes Leon Panetta, who not only leaked highly classified information in his memoir, but also would have been busted for exposing the Navy SEALs who offed Osama bin Laden if the game weren’t so rigged to excuse senior leakers.

In addition to the working groups, Sullivan relies on a somewhat separate group of senior former officials who have more frequent interaction with the campaign leadership and Clinton herself. Many of these advisers aren’t publicly affiliated with the campaign because they have leadership roles with organizations that have not endorsed any candidate for president.

But sources close to the campaign told me that Clinton, Sullivan and campaign chairman John Podesta are in regular contact with former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Is the effort to keep the identities of the men who killed OBL secret also, “overclassification run amok”? Or does Panetta’s role in Hillary’s foreign policy team suggest her crowd really is that hypocritical about who can leak classified information?

I’d really love it if Hillary came out strongly against the paranoid secrecy that stifles our foreign policy (and just yesterday led to Ashkan Soltani losing a position as a technical advisor for the White House, presumably because of his role in reporting the Snowden documents).

But thus far that’s not what she’s doing: her campaign is making a limited critique of this paranoid secrecy, only applicable when it impacts those close to her.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

17 replies
  1. bevin says:

    Clinton, as Secretary of State, has clear title to three major achievements: the selection of Martelly as President of Haiti, the killing of Ghadaffi and regime change in Libya, and midwifing the current war on Syria (which is Civil only insofar as it involves a minority of Muslim Brotherhood Syrian jihadists).

    One could add various others such as the retention of Dick Cheney’s operative Nuland in State, the defenestration of the President of Honduras and the removal of Paraguay’s liberation theologist President. But the three achievements noted above are all demonstratively on-going.

    Martelly’s criminal reign ends on February 7th. There is no elected successor because the election process-devised by Hillary to keep Aristide away from power- is so corrupt that even the handpicked Ton Ton Macoute successor understands that it has no credibility anywhere. Haiti is worse off than ever and Hillary, together with her corrupt spouse has to be held responsible.

    Does anyone need to be told about Libya? This appalling situation has, inter alia, reduced a generation of Libyans to poverty and despair. Tens of thousands have been brutally murdered (among Black Africans this took the position of systematic racist massacres.) This is an achievement of which Hillary is particularly proud. It is unfair not to link it with her public service.

    Then there is Syria, where the wahhabi rebels were the beneficiaries of hundreds of tons of missiles, munitions and armaments clandestinely conveyed, via Turkey, to their mercenary formations. It is highly possible too that loot from Libya-including a hoard of gold- was used to finance this essay in regime change.

    Hillary is running on her ‘record’ and there it is, like a monster Fourth of July fireworks show featuring exploding countries, lighting the night sky as voters make their ways to the caucuses and primaries. And the signs are that the show will still be going on when the General Election takes place. God willing, she will not be involved in that.

    • bell says:

      thanks for saying all that.. as a canuck and outsider – i don’t have a say, but i hope she has given herself enough rope to hang her political aspirations.. she is one messed up lady..

  2. martin says:

    quote”Alternately Hillary can declare that if she is elected, she’ll pardon both Jeffrey Sterling and Chelsea Manning.”unquote

    Hahaha. When pigs fly comes to mind. Besides..she won’t have to..cause Patraeus, notwithstanding her black book of favors due or else. After all..WDC is the boilerplate for political blackmail, notwithstanding daggers in the back.

    quote”But thus far that’s not what she’s doing: her campaign is making a limited critique of this paranoid secrecy, only applicable when it impacts those close to her.”unquote

    They’re not worried. They know what’s in her little black book.

      • martin says:

        quote”When you say “WDC”, what do you mean Wallace?”unquote
        Wickedly Deep Cesspool…otherwise known as WASHINGTON D.C.

        btw, I’m not the only one who thinks Clinton can burn WDC to the ground, politically speaking. Even the FBI is afraid of her..

        quote”The permanent government (i.e. federal bureaucracy) is up in arms about the threat to their “Mandate of Heaven” represented by the imminent foundering of the SS Hillary Clinton. The fact that Hillary has the keys to the kingdom in terms of message traffic and insider knowledge of the White House-originated conspiracy against the Constitution known as Fast and Furious makes the timing on how the Obamanoids deal with this very dicey. To accomplish the removal of the Clintons from the election in time to substitute a Biden/Elizabeth Warren switcheroo, they have to have Hillary’s agreement to accept a preemptive pardon. If Hillary decides to go all Samson on them and pull down the temple with her, they’re screwed. If Hillary waits too long to work the deal offered, she’s screwed. The FBI underlings are said to be in open revolt already with whistleblowing sounding in the distance and yet THEY, as an institution, are interested in keeping their participation in F&F(Fast & Furious) via the actual smuggling of arms by their creatures the Miramontes brothers a secret. There’s enough blackmail material here to make the eyes of the most corrupt and Byzantine operative of the Tsarist secret police in Hell permanently crossed.”unquote

        http://sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-democrat-national-committee.html

        “There’s enough blackmail material here to make the eyes of the most corrupt and Byzantine operative of the Tsarist secret police in Hell permanently crossed.” Hahahaha! Indeed, like I said…Hillary’s little black book. Going back decades.

  3. lefty665 says:

    I understand your skepticism and agree that everything that CIA considers classified may not necessarily be reasonably classified. The Sterling rotary phone dialing instructions from the ’80s are a perfect example. But I’m not sure that means you think there was no legitimately classified email on Hillary’s server. What do you think?
    .
    She did send an email directing a subordinate (Sullivan?) to strip classification indicators and send unclassified. It would seem that goes to intent to break the law and conspiracy to break the law. It also makes her “there was nothing marked classified” way too cute but profoundly Clintonesque.
    .
    It does not seem to me that being the recipient of classified information puts her completely in the clear. She’s in the driver’s seat. Where are the “Hey dumbasses don’t send any more classified information on this insecure channel” emails? It’s not as if she’s a victim here, although that’s how she is trying to portray herself.
    .
    Hillary’s also got two hats on here. She is the owner/operator of the email service that she as Sec State directed people to use wrongfully. What is her liability for its misuse? Is she as innocent as an automaker when a car is used in a crime? OTOH, we’re holding VW liable for subverting pollution controls, not the drivers of the cars, so it’s not always a clear issue. Perhaps she should be as liable as she advocates gun makers should be when their products are used wrongfully?
    .
    I’m not a Hillary fan, and would be glad to see her (and Bill, and Chelsea after her foray a couple of weeks ago) run out of public life on a rail. But, it needs to be legitimate. Is there a real issue with email or should we go back to addressing the merits of her neocon warmongering, protection of wall street, etc, etc, etc…?

  4. lefty665 says:

    “First, the response from many supporters — and it’s a point I’ve made too — is that this doesn’t reflect on Hillary because she mostly just received these emails, she didn’t send them. That’s true. And it largely limits any legal liability Hillary herself would have.”
    .
    EW, please take another look at that when you get a minute. The law on classified material does not distinguish between sender and receiver, nor does it care about intent. Disclosure and mishandling are the focus. Failing to report is a separate offense. Sullivan et al better be careful they don’t find themselves thrown under the campaign bus. But I’m not a lawyer…
    .
    Title 18 US Code 793 section (f)

    “Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer—

    Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

    • emptywheel says:

      I don’t think we’ll fully know whether there’s a real issue with the email–that’s why FBI is investigating it. I do know that Martha Lutz is a hack, and given that this thus far arises from her statements about drones, which is an area where CIA has been particularly unreasonable, I’m going to assume this is CIA hackishness until I see evidence it is not.

      • lefty665 says:

        Thanks EW. You’ve said that several times now. Maybe this time it will stick with me (Duh!). Looks like State bought in on this last batch, so they may be different.

  5. orion ATL says:

    e. w.,

    this is the trashyist, most propagandistic post i have ever seen you write. you really ought to be ashamed to have written intellectually meandering crap like this.

    nothing you can write will change the results of iowa, new hampshire, s. carolina.

    all you can do is leave piles of mierda like this behind you, to be used by others against you later.

    so why prostitute your reputation writing this trash?

    ____

    1. the post begins with the paragraph, the quote, the paragraph about the clinton email problem/scandal. you have been fair about this many times. in fact, you may be one of the few analysts in the entire nation who knows what is going on with psuedo/reverse classification.

    2.then fact moves to polemic/propaganda to imply blame on clinton for not saying publicly she’ll pardon manning and steing.

    have you taken leave of your senses? you know damn good and well NO candidate would do that.
    would senator marcy wheeler be stupid enough to argue for pardon in a election campaign? i thought you were the lass who always understood the underlying politics of public claims and disclaims.

    3. then there’s the emptywherl (sic) pique at clinton for having criticized senator sanders for not having made a foreign policy speech. again, e. w., since when do you, who like to brag repeatedly, sub rosa of course, about your understanding of politics, get away with criticizing one candidate for using her long suit against another? is this not, ah, common?

    4. finally, in this propagandistic missive, there are the gossipy paragraphs about a show cabinet. certainly, a maven like you would know this is common? and you clearly do known “shadow” does not imply bad. apparrently, it’s just the particular “jerks” clinton includes that draw your condemnation.

    it’s too bad you had not had clinton’s experience before writing this bit of e. w.’s true-news-combined-with-gossip, implying incompetence or mevolence on the part of clinton.

    did you by chance see the nytimes endorsement of clinton today? i was focused on what i recognize to be the case – clinton is a candidate of extraordinary experience.

    ddo you have any interest in seeing the nation being led by such a person, and a woman to boot? or are you all in, as in 2008, for platform words?

  6. martin says:

    quote” i was focused on what i recognize to be the case – clinton is a candidate of extraordinary experience. “unquote

    Sometimes, “experience” isn’t the only game in town. It’s what she’ll do with it that counts. “We came..we saw…we killed him…hahahahahaha” …comes to mind. “What difference does it make now?!!!!!!” does too, notwithstanding this little gem…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=My29YT1T4R4

    I’m sure Ray McGovern has “experience” too. btw….Sanders ought to use that video in an ad.

    • orion ATL says:

      ah, yes.

      martin sheds crocadile tears over the death of m. gadaffi. he weeps. he shouts with grief. poor, dear muammur is dead.

      martin, your affected concern is the signature of a fool and a con man.

      • Seth says:

        Umm, Libya is in a state of collapse as a direct result of Clinton’s actions there (as well as the litany of foreign policy debacles she had a direct hand in as Sec State). Real tears are in order.

  7. haarmeyer says:

    I understand and agree with you about retroactive classification a la Jeffrey Sterling and others. It amounts to saying that while Congress shall enact no ex post facto law, that doesn’t apply to the CIA.

    I’m not so sure that is the argument against the leaks of Chelsea Manning, though. Especially since the standard by which we calculate harm was established very badly by Greenwald et al. as if you can’t provide a link to it, it never happened. That’s maybe a cool method of documentation for a certain select set of things on the internet, but in terms of confidentiality in international relations and with respect to vulnerable populations, it’s a stupid criterion, and blowing confidentiality can cause harm that can’t be documented that way, including lethal harm that can’t be documented that way.

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