The way sensitive information was handled by Hillary Clinton and her staffers at Foggy Bottom during her tenure as Secretary of State is indicative of the lack of respect shown by even uber-senior government officials to data collected by governments by legal and illegal means.
With every additional reduction in personal freedoms or intrusive piece of surveillance or data collection legislation the citizen’s concerns are salved by the oft used mantra that the data is in “good hands” and will be treated with the respect required and used only for the purposes outlined.
How hard it is to accept those type of assurances from state actors in the normal course of events is obvious with even a cursory knowledge of the antics of the NSA and GCHQ under the PRISM, XKeyscore and Tempora surveillance programs.
How much harder it is when juxtaposed with the reckless abandon with which senior state department officials under Clinton treated data, the mis-handling of which literally placed peoples lives at risk.
It is an arrogance with which those in power have always demonstrated and one which is an important lesson to every citizen as they stand idly by while governments and corporations globally aided by flawed laws, but more often illegally, peak into their personal lives for economic, political and personal gain.
Apologists have consistently sought to dilute the gravity of the situation with respect to Clinton’s offices’ behaviour. Obfuscation notwithstanding, highly classified information was wilfully placed on unclassified and unencrypted networks.
The fact that this was allowed shows the systemic lack of checks and balances in place to audit the flow of sensitive surveillance and intelligence information within and between governments. It additionally renders moot any government assurances regarding the handling of sensitive information – not that this event was required to reach that obvious conclusion – it simply presents a perfect case in point to illuminate the problem.
Intelligence community analysts at multiple American, UK and other Five Eyes alphabet agencies write intelligence assessments based on multiple information sources every day. They are then classified according to their content, sensitivity and source and then shared with senior government leadership.
In the USA, the Secretary of State is always the top consumer of this data. The State Department has its own in-house intelligence analysis shop, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) to handle that department’s need for additional classified assessments and reporting.
Broadly, the classifications and other acronyms typically used in IA’s are:
TOPSECRET / TS – The highest “official” classification in the U.S. Government;
SECRET / S – This data is not based on SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) and is normally sourced from local classified assessments from US Embassy or CIA Station staff;
SI – Special Intelligence is a security caveat that falls under the rubric of Sensitive Compartmented Information or SCI. Not everybody cleared for TOPSECRET also has access to SCI, that’s a separate matter and all SCI materials require special handling to protect them from compromise. These SI classifications are normally information derived from NSA SIGINT programmes;
NOFORN / NF – This caveat means it cannot be shared with non-Americans. However, large portions of NSA SIGINT, even at the TS/SI level, are shared with close foreign partners such as the Five Eyes countries;
TK / TALENT KEYHOLE – Information derived from foreign communications intercepts by assets or intelligence satellites;
FOUO – The For Official Use Only marking, meaning it cannot be released to the public without official approval. Local media reports are important sources for this type of information and make up the raw materials analysed by the CIA’s Open Source Center (OSINT). This is the agencies hub for translating foreign media reports;
NFI – means No Further Information;
U – Entirely unclassified.
Save for the U classification no portion of information denoted by any of the other acronyms can be released to the public, or placed on any unclassified information system, by anybody, not even a cabinet secretary, without specific approval from outside agencies.
SIGINT, in particular, is highly sensitive. This type of data should only ever see the light of day outside of the official audience for these reports with explicit NSA permission. Even talking around such information represents a security breach and is normally considered illegal by the legislation used to grant the powers to collect the information in the first instance.
Clinton and her office breached all of these rules.