Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hillary's Emails

The emails! Of course, the emails! There’s nothing that shows how corrupt Hillary is than the shoddy way she handled sensitive information while serving as Secretary of State.

Isn’t there?

Well, not quite, because like most Hillary “scandals” it’s nowhere near as bad as the Republicans have lied about and exaggerated. Nor is it as bad as Bernie Sanders supporters believe (although at this point many of them would believe Hillary urinated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then sacrificed a baby to Satan – even and especially if The Drudge Report said she did).

To expedite my defense of Hillary on this, I’ve opted to boil down the main accusations and juxtapose them with the truth, warts and all. Then, the distinction will be highlighted between the truth and the fiction of the matter, and why it’s important. Hopefully, even a cursory skimming of my defense should then convince a few hardened anti-Clinton skeptics.

Also, I’m not going to bother with the emails themselves. The State Department released the last of them way back on February 29. The media have had plenty of time to sift through each and every little word to find if there had been any juicy or scandalous news story and so far, have found nothing scandalous. In fact, they found a woman who was thoughtful, respectful, and quite human. Many anti-Clinton people have been converted into Clinton people just on the strength of reading her emails alone. So I’ll leave the media to sludge through the dross with underpaid bleary-eyed interns. My focus will be on the major points.

So, here we go:

False: Hillary broke the law.

True: Hillary broke the rules.

The distinction: The official line from the Clinton campaign is that the use of a personal email server was “allowed.” While this is legally true, it is false from the State Department's perspective, and deliberately misleading in the view of the general public. State Department “guidelines” stated that a personal email server should not be used. Hillary weighed the cost of breaking an internal rule with no teeth when there was no law prohibiting her, and decided to ignore the guideline. Proper? No. Illegal? Nope, not that either.

False: Hillary is under investigation by the FBI.

True: Hillary’s emails are under investigation by the FBI.

The distinction: This might seem like splitting hairs, but there is no criminal investigation by the FBI – yet. What’s going on now is an investigation as to whether or not any criminal action was done. And so Hillary’s email server is being combed through by FBI cyber-specialists who seek to make certain no classified information was leaked. So far, it seems none has been, because the FBI has had an entire year, and no criminality has yet been found. On the other hand, if such criminality has been found and the FBI is remaining quiet about it, that would be another matter. The FBI however is non-partisan, and has no reason to delay an indictment if any wrongdoing should be found. Again, because no indictment has been forthcoming, it is becoming more and more safe to assume that there was no criminal leaking of classified information.

On the other hand, if the FBI does hand down an indictment, THEN Bernie Sanders will have a decent shot at winning the nomination at the Democratic National Convention. Not before, however.

False: The purpose of her use of a private e-mail server was to hide her personal emails from the government and the press.

True: The purpose of her private email server was the convenience of not needing two separate email accounts.

The distinction: This is one where the claims from the Clinton campaign are probably spot-on. If you’re going to conceal e-mails, a private server is a lousy way to do it. Any email you send to a .gov address gets archived anyway. (This, in fact, is one of Hillary’s arguments.) You could provide security for the server yourself, but if you hire professionals to do it  (as Hillary did), then the company hired could turn over all their materials to the FBI (which they did). Yes, deleting some of your emails from your own server could result in some information being lost, and some was, but unless you can be sure that 100% of all emails sent were deleted on the other end, you can’t be sure of anything being secure.

Hillary had precedent. Three other Secretaries of State served in the era of email: Madeline Albright, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Albright never had an email account, but both Powell and Rice did, and their emails were permanently deleted after their terms of service ended. As such, when Hillary saw the guidelines saying that private servers ought not be used for official State Department business, she must have felt like the younger sister who saw an older sibling receive a privilege to which she was now denied. Of course she would keep her own private server “for convenience.” And who can blame her for being indignant at being so severely investigated when two Republicans did the same thing before her and got off scott-free?

It’s easy to see how a woman in her 60’s would not want to bother with using two email addresses. I have two email addresses, and it sucks. I tend to read the older account and never read the new one, even though the new one is the “official” one. And that’s just me – a man from the next generation down, presumably more tech savvy. Most women from Hillary’s generation struggle with how to set the DVR.

“Convenience?” I buy it.

False: Hillary emailed classified information.

True: Hillary emailed information that was marked as classified by a different agency after the fact.

The distinction: This is another one where the Clinton campaign is dead-on right. The FBI or the CIA might designate something as classified which the State department doesn’t. And information which might not be classified today might become classified tomorrow, or vice-versa. It’s the reason some Cold War documents are being declassified now. It’s also the reason some things which were thought to be casual exchanges even a few years ago might suddenly become classified in light of a sudden shift in the situation at home or abroad. An unclassified message to a Ukranian official might become classified if that official suddenly gets promoted to a higher position. An innocent request from a Kenyan politician might become classified if that dignitary is suddenly arrested for an unknown reason. Many things change in the fluidity of international politics, and designations of what constitutes classified information must change with them.

In short, if Hillary had received or sent information which was not classified at the time, but became classified later on, she would not be guilty of wrongdoing.

False: Her use of a private server made sensitive information more vulnerable to hackers.

True: Having a private server put her email outside the government’s protective firewalls.

The distinction: Think having a private server outside the government is more accessible than one within the government? Not necessarily! The government websites and emails are the constant targets of hackers, and hackers who break the government system receive the most “cred,” which is everything in the hacker world. Because Hillary’s server was off the government reservation, the only hackers targeting it were those few who 1) knew of its existence and 2) felt the need to target it. There weren’t many hackers who met that criteria. In other words, sometimes the safest place is away from the primary target.

But what about this Romanian hacker nicknamed “Guccifer?” Didn’t he hack Hillary’s email server?

Marcel Lehel, a.k.a. “Guccifer,” has indeed been extradited to the United States on hacking related charges involving identity theft, wire fraud and cyberstalking. But his claims at having hacked Hillary Clinton’s email server are probably made up. He is able to offer no proof that he hacked Hillary’s private server, and making a hack claim without being able to back it up is the worst crime a hacker can do. It makes him a “muggle” (a hacker wannabe who fakes it). He is therefore a pariah. Until he presents proof, he’s a hacker’s joke.

So, quick recap:

Did Hillary disregard rules and put her own convenience ahead of the nation with her handling of State email on a private server? You bet your ass, she did!

Did she endanger the nation’s security by passing along sensitive information to those who shouldn’t have received it? Hell, no!

In the end, the official FBI conclusion will likely be that Hillary did not divulge State secrets, but will also give her a severe reprimand. The State department has already effectively done this. She deserves it, and she knows it, which is why she’s issued her apology for it, and not just because she was caught. It stings her, and well it should.

But against Trump, it shouldn’t cost her any votes.

Hillary’s behavior was myopic, technologically naïve, somewhat lazy, and even sloppy. But not criminal.

And unless they find an email sent from her server to some lowlife without clearance, it never will be!



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