So much for Hillary Clinton’s “no classified information sent or received” excuse, eh? As noted yesterday, intelligence Inspector General Charles McCullough has informed Senate intelligence and foreign affairs committees that several dozen e-mails have been discovered in the former Secretary of State’s unauthorized private server that have classified information pertaining to “special access programs,” operations so secretive that their classification can only be assigned by certain Cabinet members or their chief deputies.

NBC News noted late last night that these do not include the two previously noted e-mails with Top Secret/Compartmented classified information. Also, the IG and his team actually had to have their clearances upgraded to see the affadavits from intel agents in the first place:

Charles McCulllough, the intelligence community’s inspector general, said in a letter to the chairmen of the Senate intelligence and foreign affairs committees that he has received sworn declarations from an intelligence agency he declined to name.

The declarations cover “several dozen emails containing classified information determined by the IC element to be at the CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET and TOP SECRET/SAP information.”

An intelligence official familiar with the matter told NBC News that the special access program in question was so sensitive that McCullough and some of his aides had to receive clearance to be read in on it before viewing the sworn declaration about the Clinton emails.

Team Hillary responded by calling this an “interagency dispute,” Josh Gerstein and Rachel Bade report for Politico:

“This is the same interagency dispute that has been playing out for months, and it does not change the fact that these emails were not classified at the time they were sent or received” said Clinton Campaign Spokesman Brian Fallon. “It is alarming that the intelligence community IG, working with Republicans in Congress, continues to selectively leak materials in order to resurface the same allegations and try to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The Justice Department’s inquiry should be allowed to proceed without any further interference.”

Fallon followed up this morning by accusing the IG of conspiring with Republicans — resurrecting the “vast right-wing conspiracy” of Hillary’s time in the White House:

CAMEROTA: But the Inspector General isn’t a Republican.

FALLON: Actually, I think this was a very coordinated leak yesterday.

CAMEROTA: Why do you think he’s a stooge of the Republicans in Congress? I’ve heard you say that. What’s your evidence?

FALLON: Because two months ago there was a Politico report that directly challenged the finding of this Inspector General, and I don’t think he liked that very much. So I think that he put two Republican Senators up to sending him a letter so that he would have an excuse to resurface the same allegations he made back in the summer that have been discredited.

That claim stunned national-security reporter Josh Rogin:

Wow, indeed. The “interagency dispute” claim is a red herring anyway, because State does not have the authority to declassify information from sources outside of its own agency. An executive order signed by Barack Obama in December 2009 (EO 13526) continued a policy from at least the Bill Clinton administration (EO 12958) that strictly prohibits agencies from changing classification levels set by other agencies, emphasis mine:

It is presumed that information that continues to meet the classification requirements under this order requires continued protection. In some exceptional cases, however, the need to protect such information may be outweighed by the public interest in disclosure of the information, and in these cases the information should be declassified. When such questions arise, they shall be referred to the agency head or the senior agency official. That official will determine, as an exercise of discretion, whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs the damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure.

Short of that, any “interagency dispute” on classification levels goes to the Information Security Oversight Office, and after that to the White House:

If the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office determines that information is classified in violation of this order, the Director may require the information to be declassified by the agency that originated the classification. Any such decision by the Director may be appealed to the President through the National Security Advisor. The information shall remain classified pending a prompt decision on the appeal.

The Secretary of State has no authority to declare information developed outside of State as declassified, “interagency dispute” or not. On top of that, the “special access programs” designation on these communications demonstrate that far from being in dispute, the programs involved are so secretive that everyone who has access to this information knows they are classified at the highest levels.

So what was the program involved? At least some of them had to do with drone strikes, Gerstein and Bade report, originating with the CIA:

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some or all of the emails deemed to implicate “special access programs” related to U.S. drone strikes. Those who sent the emails were not involved in directing or approving the strikes, but responded to the fallout from them, the official said.

The information in the emails “was not obtained through a classified product, but is considered “‘per se’ classified” because it pertains to drones, the official added. The U.S. treats drone operations conducted by the CIA as classified, even though in a 2012 internet chat Presidential Barack Obama acknowledged U.S.-directed drone strikes in Pakistan.

So? We acknowledge having submarine-based nuclear weapons too, for example, but information on the operation and tactics of those receives the highest levels of classification. Anything that could potentially give an enemy an edge has to be kept out of the public domain, and previous leaks do not change that. Certainly, nothing related to official response to drone operations should be transmitted outside of secure comms channels. And yet here we have the Secretary of State and her staff discussing some of the most operationally and diplomatically sensitive operations in the war on terror — over a home-brew secret server based in her house, set up to keep Congress and the courts from exercising legitimate constitutional oversight on the State Department’s operations.

The Hillary Clinton camp has been recycling the same canards for months now on the e-mail scandal. It’s time that the Department of Justice made Team Hillary a lot less comfortable with the investigation.

Update: It’s worth pointing out that newly minted VRWC figure Charles McCullough was appointed as IG for intelligence by … Barack Obama. The Senate, under Democratic control at the time, confirmed his appointment by unanimous consent.

Update: How embarrassing is this? McClatchy thinks it’s pretty newsworthy:

Hillary Clinton’s spokesman accused the Intelligence Community Inspector General Wednesday of working with Republicans to attack the Democratic presidential front-runner.

“I think this was a very coordinated leak,” Brian Fallon said on CNN. “Two months ago there was a…report that directly challenged the finding of this inspector general, and I don’t think he liked that very much. So I think that he put two Republican senators up to sending him a letter so that he would have an excuse to resurface the same allegations he made back in the summer that have been discredited.”

The comments came after Inspector General Charles McCullough III told senators that he believes at least several dozen of emails Clinton sent and received while she was secretary of state contained classified material at the highest levels, according to a letter obtained by McClatchy.

McCullough was nominated by President President Barack Obama in August 2011 to be the first inspector general for the 16 intelligence agencies and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee that October. The full Senate agreed by unanimous consent in November.

D’oh!