The electorate awaits the results of an FBI analysis of the email traffic belonging to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe curious case of the COVID-19 origin Harris headlining Asian American Democratic PAC's summit Congress won't end the wars, so states must MORE, the former secretary of state. It appears fairly certain that Clinton violated rules by using a personal email account for official business. The real question is whether the situation is much worse. By her actions, was secret information exposed to hackers?

Unfortunately, circumstantial evidence would indicate that this would have to be so. An understanding of the day-to-day activities of government officials and how they do business would seem to confirm this.


Department of State and Department of Defense employees (I was one of the latter) do much of their daily business over two e-mail systems, NIPRNet and SIPRNET. (Note: This and the following information are unclassified.) Each system requires a separate computer, so department officers have two computers and a switch box on their desks. The computers are shut off at night, except when software updates are being pushed overnight.

NIPRNet is a system open to the world, i.e., you can email your friends over it, and they can reach you. As a result, only the most basic and unclassified messages are sent over it. I might, for example, confirm a meeting time over it. But the degree to which it was open to the public was confirmed by the instance where a number of coworkers and I were hit with penis enlargement solicitations over a period of days. We were frequently warned of possible hacks. The Defense Department eliminated our ability to retrieve NIPRNet mail from home because of security issues.

SIPRNet, on the other hand, is a standalone system that handles up to secret-level information. The overwhelming majority of our business was done on this domain. During the years I worked in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy covering counternarcotics for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and nuclear issues for Iran and North Korea, dozens of emails passed among my Department of Defense coworkers, my State Department colleagues, and me on this system on a daily basis. Emails concerning particularly sensitive information were sent on a system called JWICS, which required yet a third computer.

There is one more issue. We at Defense were also able to monitor much of the State Department cable traffic, much of which was classified. This was carried on SIPRNet, and the originator of the cable decided on the classification level.

As a mere program officer, I still dealt with hundreds of classified emails every week. There was much above my level to which I had no access, but that is where business among the most senior leaders was carried out.

The problem with Clinton's version of things hinges on two issues. First, in 14 years at the Defense Department, I never saw a personal email domain address, much less did I send or receive any messages from one where business was concerned. We were disabused of the idea of using personal email on the first day of work, and it was never an issue.

Second, Clinton claims to have used her personal email address to carry out official business and wants us to believe that there was nothing classified in it. She is saying that a peon like me dealt with hundreds of classified messages and cables a week, but that she, as secretary of State, didn't deal with any? This is even less likely in an era when there is a tendency to be overly liberal with the secret classification.

Certain types of information are secret by their nature. Department officers classify other information as secret, and have that latitude because, while individual facts might not be secret, they may coalesce into a secret document through their association. In any case, it is the responsibility of every sender and recipient to recognize what is secret and what is not, and sending such information over a lower system must be reported as a "spill." Spills adjudged to be serious must be cleaned off inappropriate systems in the hope of controlling the dissemination of information to bad guys. Clinton's claim that she didn't know an unclassified was really secret is untenable.

Former President Bill Clinton's recent statement that his wife is being targeted by her enemies may be true, but it doesn't negate the fact that everything she says flies in the face of how everyday business is carried out at the State Department and its chief partner, the Department of Defense. The circumstantial evidence appears so strong that if the FBI claims to have found nothing, one would have to be suspicious of a cover-up. In any event, most important will be the assessment of any damage done to our national security.

Blady, M.D., is a former program officer for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and senior analyst for the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.