FBI decision on Clinton could mean end of secure information
© Greg Nash

A word about special access programs (SAP).

When I worked for the undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, I was privileged to see and work with SAP, which carry stricter security parameters than even Top Secret programs, and contain some of our most sensitive information. Only the most senior members of the undersecretary's office could grant access to the programs after careful applicant screening. Qualification was not enough; integrity was also critical. I was hired unexpectedly because the person who was supposed to take the job was disqualified over a drunk-driving conviction. My own start was held up because I was involved in a civil lawsuit in which I was the plaintiff. That was enough to postpone my SAP clearance until the suit was resolved.

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The computer I used for SAP was connected only to a printer (no network), and the hard drive was secured by a key lock. The drive had to be removed and locked in a safe whenever the computer was unattended. If SAP data had to be moved from the Pentagon to another site, protocol required that they be put in a special locked pouch, and that two people transport them in case there was an auto accident. The transport people needed special courier badges separate from all their other badges.

You get the picture.

In his July 5, 2016 statement, James Comey, head of the FBI, stated that presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSchumer: 'The big lie is spreading like a cancer' among GOP America departs Afghanistan as China arrives Young, diverse voters fueled Biden victory over Trump MORE and (by implication) her immediate staff trafficked such information using insecure equipment. Remember: We couldn't send SAP information over any network. People violating such protocols lost access and faced possible loss of all clearances, dismissal and legal sanctions.

This is not to say that all the "merely" Secret and Top Secret information the Clinton team also sent over insecure equipment represented a minor infraction. One need only witness what happens at the Defense Department if information is sent on an inappropriate system, an event termed a "spill," to understand the gravity of violating the sanctity of classified information. Offices are disrupted, computers and servers are scrubbed, and personnel are interviewed in an attempt to mitigate the potential damage.

Lives and critical technology are connected to classified information. The Departments of State and Defense are married in the effort to provide protection for the men and women who serve in the field. Those that attempt to casually toss off the entire email scandal as a diversion to Clinton's procession to a presidency to which she is somehow entitled are deluding themselves about Clinton's qualifications to be commander in chief. She and her team repeatedly violated protocols with regard only to Clinton's convenience, and with an arrogance all too often tied to the Clinton name. They put lives in danger.

Was there really any danger? Was Clinton's email hacked? Comey pointed out that there was no way to tell because no proficient hacker would leave a trail. After all, why would the hacker, who wants to keep hacking, alert the victim? However, there is ample, openly reported evidence that many Cabinet departments have had their unclassified email networks hacked. (Whether classified email has been hacked is itself classified information.) Thousands of attempts at such hacks are made weekly. Is it at least a reasonable possibility that Clinton and her team have had their email hacked? You bet.

The equal protection argument is also at play here. If Clinton and her team are not prosecuted, or at least punished by permanent denial of security clearances, who should be? Who can be? Short of Edward Snowden-type violations and out-and-out espionage, any attempt to sanction security violators will be met by the question, "Why me?" It is already common knowledge among government employees that news leaks are not chased down because such leaks are sometimes attributed to high-ranking officials, and to prosecute rank-and-file employees would require going after the big players in turn. Now it's going to be more difficult to penalize egregious email security violators, something I am assured by people conversant with such matters, because the Clinton team escaped unscathed. 

In another election, Director Comey's comments might have sealed the fate of the Clinton candidacy. In a year when the Republicans have put forward a candidate who is less than compelling, Hillary Clinton may have dodged a bullet. Her luck is undeserved. She has hurt her country.

Blady, M.D., is a former program officer for the undersecretary of Defense for policy and senior analyst for the undersecretary of Defense for intelligence.