Since the issue of classification has emerged in the past day or so again, it’s worth remembering just how important it is for national security. This news item from the Hartford Courant in Connecticut demonstrates just how seriously officials are supposed to protect classified material and systems. The Department of Justice has charged a former Navy submariner with multiple crimes involving his retention of cell-phone pictures of classified systems on his boat. Former machinist’s mate Kristian Saucier faces up to 30 years in prison after serving five years in the Navy (via ChuckJ on Twitter):

The FBI says a sailor took illegal photographs of classified systems on the U.S. Navy’s Groton-based, nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Alexandria and later tried to destroy the evidence when he learned that the Navy and FBI were investigating.

The Navy was alerted to the security breach when the town dump foreman in Hampton found a cellular telephone in a Dumpster and decided to keep it to replace his own. When he noticed that the phone contained photographs, he showed them to a retired Navy chief, who called the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

U.S. Attorney Deirdre M. Daly said Friday that a federal grand jury has charged Kristian Saucier, 28, of Arlington, Vt., with unlawfully retaining photos taken inside restricted areas of a nuclear attack submarine, and obstructing an investigation. …

Naval and FBI investigators said in court filings that Saucier’s telephone contained photographs of the ship’s reactor, reactor compartment and maneuvering compartment, where the nuclear power, steam and electrical systems of the submarine are operated and monitored through control panels.

The investigators said that photographs of the control panels were of such clarity that gauges could easily be read, revealing the Alexandria’s position at the time of the photograph, as well as its maximum speed, which is classified. An engineer reading the photos could “determine significant design characteristics of a U.S. nuclear submarine, including its reactor plant,” the investigators said.

The obstruction charge relates to Saucier’s actions after getting questioned by the FBI. In what seems like an interesting parallel to the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal, the FBI accuses Saucier of trying to destroy his laptop and dump it on his grandfather’s farm. Saucier told his grandfather that he’d used it for target practice, according to the Courant.

Now, 30 years may seem steep for what Saucier allegedly did — Chelsea Manning got 35 years for disseminating as many as 750,000 classified documents to Wikileaks — but submarine security is a top nat-sec priority. Our defense against sea-based nuclear missiles relies heavily on attack subs, which have to be as difficult to spot and track as possible. Disseminating any classified information on those systems would be espionage, but even keeping them on personal and unsecured devices are not just violations, but felonies. Anyone with a security clearance gets repeatedly trained on the proper handling of classified information, the approved methods of storing it, and the restrictions on transmission. Saucier knew better than to take pictures of classified systems for his own personal use — and if that’s what he did, then he deserves to be prosecuted, although he’ll probably get considerably less than 30 years if that’s all it was.

This brings us to the Hillary Clinton scandal. People who have not held clearances on classified information seem to think that “intent” plays a role in whether laws get broken when material gets stored or transmitted improperly, including some in the media:

There are several points in error here, although I believe John is asking this from a lack of experience more than anything else. The issue here isn’t that Hillary Clinton got intelligence that lacked markings, but that Hillary Clinton sent or received classified data on an unsecured transmission at all — and by “unsecured,” I mean a transmission method outside of the control of government or approved contractors. Moreover, the IG’s referral specified that Hillary sent at least four e-mails that contained classified material, not just received them, and that the material was classified at the time it was sent by the intelligence community. Hillary made the choice to exclusively use this unsecured system for her communications, which means that she is the person liable for the violations in that sense as well. As the top-ranking official at State, she was responsible for maintaining the security of sensitive information for her team as well as herself. Intent does not enter into it.

People also seem confused by the issues of “markings.” The information from the intelligence community almost certainly did not come to Hillary unmarked. (If it had, the IG would have passed a referral to the DoJ focusing on who sent the material to her.) The classification of material in documents is heavily noted, with the highest classification on any page marked at the top and bottom. Each paragraph starts with a parenthetical noting the abbreviation for the classification of the information contained within — (U) for unclassified, (S) for secret, (TS) for top secret, etc. When using that material in other forms like a cable or e-mail, the classification markings must follow, and the transmission method restricted to that suitable for the highest classification in the material.

There is simply no way that Hillary or anyone else could have missed the classification markings on the source documents. If none had been present, that should have raised red flags, and once again that would be what the IG would have referred to the DoJ. Those markings had to be included in any other communications, so that anyone who accesses them can make sure they are handled properly and kept from those who do not have the proper level of clearance. The issue in the referral is that Hillary did not include the proper markings in her sent e-mails for the information she included in it, on top of which she then transmitted in an unsecured manner. The harm from all of this is that those communications can be more easily intercepted — and were, as Hillary’s e-mails got hacked — and the material exposed. That’s why we have those laws, and why the DoJ vigorously enforces them.

Thirty years ago, I worked with classified material pertaining to military systems, including some submarine systems, as a technical editor and QA specialist for a defense contractor. The proper methods for handling that material, and the penalties for violating those procedures, got repeatedly drilled into me and everyone else working in that job. Intent relates to espionage, but not into the prosecution for willful violations of those protocols.

The Saucier case poses an interesting conundrum for the Department of Justice and Loretta Lynch. The DoJ is willing to prosecute a former sailor to the full extent of the law for violating the law on classified material, in a situation where there was no purposeful unsecured transmission of classified material. Will they pursue Hillary Clinton and her team, at the other end of the power spectrum from the rank-and-file, for deliberate unsecured transmission of improperly marked classified nat-sec intelligence? Will they pursue the same kind of obstruction of justice charges for Hillary’s wiping of her server as they are for Saucier’s destruction of his laptop? If not, then Lynch should be made to explain why.