The smoking gun?

Special Access Programs (SAP) is a game changer.  It is now undeniably clear that the results of the FBI investigation will be the end of one of two things:  Hillary’s bid for the White House or the legitimacy of the FBI—at least when it comes to prosecuting cases on the mishandling of classified material.

In 2006, a Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) from my company was deployed to Afghanistan.  Theirs was a particular mission that differed from the combat missions the typical ODAs were conducting at that time.  Everyone on that team maintained a Top Secret Sensitive and Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance and was “read-on” to their special program.  A few months into their deployment, their Intelligence Sergeant lost a thumb-drive that possessed classified information.  A week later the thumb drive was found for sale at a local bazaar.

{mosads}In response to the events, Col. Ken Allard (ret.) stated, “You’ve got a situation in which the U.S. is going to be forced to change an awful lot of its operational techniques.”

Beyond the compromise of classified information, a lot did change.  New protocols for the handling of classified material were established, and the transportation of classified material on thumb drives was strictly forbidden.  The knee jerk reaction even went as far as to disable USB ports on our work computers—in case we forgot.

Since then I’ve deployed to several locations where, at times, we operated in small teams with only non-secure cellphones with which to communicate.  We often found ourselves with a lot of information that needed to be sent up in reports, but due to the nature of our mission we were forced to sit on it for a few days until we were able to type it up and send it through a secure medium.  I’d be lying if I said we didn’t concoct elaborate plans with “foolproof” ways to communicate the information over non-secure channels, but in the end, no one was willing to take the risk of our “fail-safes” failing.

As more information from Hillary Clinton’s server has been made available, it is clear that the contents of the server contained Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), Human Intelligence (HUMINT), and Signal Intelligence (SIGINT).  Understanding that much of the information has been retroactively classified, there are a few facts that are tough to grasp—at least from the perspective of an intelligence practitioner. 

First, when imagery that is classified SECRET//NOFORN (no foreign national) is viewed, regardless of the absence of classification markings, it is distinctly evident. Second, any documents that contain or reference HUMINT is always classified SECRET, and if specific names of sources or handlers are mentioned, they are at a minimum SECRET//NOFORN.  Third, SIGINT is always classified at the TS level.  It’s not uncommon for some SI to be downgraded and shared over SECRET mediums, however, it is highly unlikely that a Secretary of State would receive downgraded intelligence.  Finally, SAP intelligence has been discovered on Clinton’s private server, and many are now calling this the smoking gun.  SAP is a specialized management system of additional security controls designed to protect SAR or Special Access Required.  SAR has to do with extremely perishable operational methods and capabilities, and only selected individuals who are “read on” or “indoctrinated” are permitted access to these programs.  The mishandling of SAP can cause catastrophic damage to current collection methods, techniques and personnel. 

In other words, if you have worked with classified material for more than a day, it seems highly implausible that someone could receive any of the aforementioned over an un-secure medium without alarm bells sounding.  However, reading about a Special Access Program on an unclassified device would make anyone even remotely familiar with intelligence mess their pantsuit.

With more damming information being released almost weekly now, it’s interesting that during last Sunday’s Democratic debate, Clinton resoundingly stated: “No one is too big for jail.”  Although the context was referencing bank CEOs and Hedge fund managers, the obvious correlation left many scratching their heads and wondering—did Hillary Clinton just say, “I dare you” to the FBI?”

DeChristopher is a 9-year veteran of the United States Army Special Forces.  He holds an M.A. in Strategic Security Studies from National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs with a concentration in Irregular Warfare.  He currently works as an Independent Intelligence Consultant and blogs at  Follow @exceptionism

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