Did the State Dept inadvertently put NSA intel into the clear?
posted at 12:41 pm on January 11, 2016 by Ed Morrissey
Has the recent release of Hillary Clinton e-mails inadvertently exposed NSA-sourced intel? Former signals intelligence analyst John Schindler believes that information sent by Sidney Blumenthal to Hillary just days before another e-mail has once again landed her in hot water is likely to have come from the NSA. In a recap of information about wrangling over control of Sudan’s oil, Blumenthal describes in detail conversations within the ranks of these groups, and gives several explanations from his source material, and in his narrative accuses the Sudanese government of conspiring with two renegade generals to start a guerrilla conflict to regain control of its oil. Schindler, who notes that these conversations took place within 24 hours of Blumenthal’s e-mails, says the only possible way an intel amateur like Blumenthal could have gotten this information is directly from NSA signals intelligence:
But the most interesting part is that the report describes a conversation “in confidence” that happened on the evening of June 7, just one day before Mr. Blumenthal sent the report to Secretary Clinton. It beggars the imagination to think that Sid’s private intelligence operation, which was just a handful of people, had operators who were well placed in Sudan, with top-level spy access, able to get this secret information, place it in a decently written assessment with proper espionage verbiage, and pass it all back to Washington, DC, inside 24 hours. That would be a feat even for the CIA, which has stations and officers all over Africa.
In fact, the June 8, 2011 Blumenthal report doesn’t read like CIA material at all, in other words human intelligence or HUMINT, but very much like signals intelligence or SIGINT. (For the differences see here). I know what SIGINT reports look like, because I used to write them for the National Security Agency, America’s biggest source of intelligence. SIGINT reports, which I’ve read thousands of, have a very distinct style and flavor to them and Blumenthal’s write-up matches it, right down to the “Source Comments,” which smack very much of NSA reporting and its “house rules.”
But is this an NSA assessment? If so, it would have to be classified at least Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information, a handling caveat that applies to most SIGINT, and quite possibly Top Secret/SCI, the highest normal classification we have. In that case, it was about as far from Unclassified as it’s possible for an email to be.
No surprise, NSA is aflutter this weekend over this strange matter. One Agency official expressed to me “at least 90 percent confidence” that Mr. Blumenthal’s June 8 report was derived from NSA reports, and the Agency ought to be investigating the matter right now.
The Sudanese media would like a few answers here, too:
The Sudanese government devised a plan in 2011 in coordination with two renegade generals in the disputed region of Abyei in order to secure control of oil reserves there, according to emails addressed to then U.S. Secretary State Hillary Clinton. …
Citing “sensitive sources” the report by Sid stated that the May 2011 fighting started “after SPLA dissidents, under the influence of the SAF/DIS, staged operations against representatives of the Khartoum government, giving Bashir a reason to send between 500 and 1,000 SAF troops to the region”.
“The regular SPLA forces reacted to this by ambushing SAF forces later in May, killing 22 soldiers. Bashir then used this attack as an excuse to overturn the Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), sending in up to 5,000 troops to take control of the district”.
In response, South Sudan president & Sudan’s 1st VP Salva Kiir instructed SPLA commanders to continue guerrilla attacks against SAF forces in Abyei only before realizing that SPLA dissidents are cooperating with the SAF.
On May 19th, SPLA troops ambushed SAF soldiers who were moving outside as they were escorted by UN peacekeepers from UNMISS.
The fighting in 2011, in the run-up to South Sudan’s independence less than two months later, saw the more than 100,000 of its residents flee after SAF occupied Abyei in retaliation to the SPLA attack.
Er … didn’t anyone at the State Department understand how sensitive this might still be now? If Blumenthal got this from NSA intelligence, it might well have blown some significant resources still in place. If Blumenthal got this through another country’s SIGINT, that raises all sorts of other questions — like which country, what kind of other cooperation Blumenthal provided in exchange for it, and whether Hillary Clinton knew about it. Schindler dismisses the idea that Blumenthal — based in Libya at the time and pursuing business interests there — could have gotten his hands on real-time intel like this on his own:
If Sid was really able to get top-level intelligence like this for Hillary, using just his shoestring operation, and get it into her hands a day later, with precise information about the high-level conspiracy that was just discussed over in Sudan, the Intelligence Community needs to get him on our payroll stat. He’s a pro at the spy business.
Note too (click the link to the document itself) that Hillary turned around and forwarded this intelligence to Jake Sullivan on her own unsecured server despite several notes about “particularly sensitive” sources. If this turns out to have been sourced by the NSA, as Schindler’s NSA sources believe it was, then this is yet another example of Hillary Clinton and her unauthorized e-mail system doing potential damage to national security and intelligence operations. This time, though, it will be State’s fault for not classifying this document and keeping it from release.