The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Hilary and Classified Material

Back in my Navy days I held several positions that demanded daily, indeed almost constant, access and use of highly classified material. Most of it was classified either "Secret" or "Top Secret" and some, because it related to special circumstances that I still cannot discuss, was given a special classification. That said, I have no doubt that if I, or any of my colleagues in similar circumstances, had done what Hilary Clinton did, I would have spent many years in Leavenworth or another similar federal facility. At best, if my superiors and others were especially kind, my naval career would have come to a rather abrupt end without future access to classified material. This, in fact, is what happened to an acquaintance who neglected to lock both his office door and a safe containing Top Secret material before he left for lunch. Unfortunately for him, his Executive Officer happened to stop by his empty office and noticed the unlocked safe. To make matters worse, several civilian workers were in the area doing electrical work. Borrowing the words of FBI Director James Comey, this officer was "extremely careless in...handling of very sensitive, highly classified information." and paid a dear price for it.

FBI Director James Comey, looking concerned
When it comes to the handling of such material, carelessness, therefore, is never an excuse (at least it hasn't been until now). In other words, it shouldn't matter that the individual (whether he or she is a naval officer or a Secretary of State) didn't intend to share classified material with the bad guys. What matters is that carelessness (i.e., incompetence) created a situation in which those same bad guys could gain access to the material.

In my day, before the internet and email and web sites, security concerns were primarily physical; i.e., locked doors and safes, encrypted radio transmissions, basic computer security, etc. The internet changed everything. Back in the mid-seventies, when I taught a course in computer security at the U. S. Naval Academy, I would show my students how easy it was to gain access to a variety of computer systems via a network called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), the foundational network from which today's worldwide internet evolved. In my 1975 classroom, using a regular commercial phone line, portable terminal, and acoustic coupler, I could easily enter this network and peek into many different computer systems. These included systems at military sites, DOD corporate contractors, and educational and research institutions. My point was that we needed more than mere physical security to keep the bad guys out.

Today, virtually every computer, including every smart phone and tablet, is connected to the internet. Of course the federal government maintains a few closed systems, but just about every other machine is vulnerable to cyber attack by either independent hackers or agencies of foreign governments. For this reason the federal government takes serious steps to safeguard the information stored on its systems and to ensure the safe transmission of classified material. For a Secretary of State to bypass these safeguards and completely ignore the real dangers of using a private server for her emails is almost beyond comprehension.

Director Comey, during today's televised monologue, seemed to realize all this as he laid out an almost perfect case for prosecuting Secretary Clinton for gross negligence in her handling of classified material. And then he tossed his case into the waste basket and recommended, well, nothing at all.

Bill and Hilary
I find it incredible that a Secretary of State would be this careless in her handling of highly classified material. But I find it even more incredible that there will be no legal consequences. Does this mean that other government employees can be equally lax in such matters and not worry about prosecution? Or perhaps Secretary Clinton is a "special case."

It's also evident, based on the FBI's investigation, that Secretary Clinton was less than honest when addressing such issues as the classification of her emails. A family trait, perhaps? Her husband, after all, to avoid a perjury conviction accepted a plea agreement, paid a $90,000 fine, and gave up his law license for five years. Today his wife was far more fortunate.

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