Are Hillary's classified e-mails on Google, AOL servers?

The good news from Politico’s Josh Gerstein is that some of the classified material transmitted through Hillary Clinton’s secret e-mail server passed through more secure systems as well. The bad news? Those systems are Google’s Gmail, and AOL, among others. Gerstein traced the path of e-mails with classified redactions and found that at least 55 of them went through commercial systems, and the federal government doesn’t seem too anxious to remove them:

Classified emails passed through commercial email services like Google and AOL on their path to or from a private server maintained by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, but so far, the government appears to have done little to retrieve or secure the messages.

A POLITICO review of Clinton emails made public by the State Department shows that at least 55 messages now deemed to include classified information appear to have been sent to or from private accounts other than Clinton’s. That number is certain to grow substantially as State processes all Clinton emails and sorts through emails turned over to the department by several of her top aides.

Only about a quarter of the former secretary’s messages have been released up to this point, and her advisers sent emails on the same topics that never reached Clinton. The nonchalant response to messages stored on commercial servers contrasts sharply with recent FBI efforts to take possession of email copies on a thumb drive maintained by Clinton’s attorney David Kendall and on a server kept by a Denver tech company that managed Clinton’s account.

Neither Google or AOL will delete e-mails without a court order to do so, nor will they allow law enforcement to track it absent such a demand. So far, the FBI and the Department of Justice have not sought that authority. One former official involved in safeguarding material suggests that the effort to claw it back may end up backfiring:

“In reality, what it does reflect is the challenge that once stuff gets out into the wild, it is almost impossible to corral it again,” said Bill Leonard, former director of the Information Security Oversight Office. “When I’ve confronted situations like this in the past, one of the first things you should do is a gain-loss type of assessment of what the gain is and what you are losing by trying to corral all this material. Sometimes, just by going after material, you bring more attention to it and cause greater damage than if you just kind of let it lay low.”

Gerstein wonders whether that gain-loss assessment involves all levels of classification, or just “Confidential.” Given the grave damage that release of Top Secret/Compartmented information would cause, clawing that back would be worth the effort, but those two e-mails may not have been routed through Google or AOL servers. Gerstein found one e-mail among those released that had been redacted at the “Secret” level, which might also be worth it, but Gerstein also notes that there is no indication that this traveled into commercial servers, either — except for Hillary’s — but that the chain isn’t necessarily comprehensively represented in the printouts of these e-mails. Others copied on these communications could have forwarded them to other people on commercial e-mail accounts, for instance, and there would be no way to know.

That, frankly, is why government officials are supposed to use approved communications channels for sensitive information. Remedying “spillage” from breaches on those systems becomes much more straightforward, as the government controls and secures those systems and can track down the spills easier. Operating a secret, unauthorized, and unsecured communication system produces this result when spillage occurs — it’s practically unfixable. It’s why people lose security clearances, their jobs, and sometimes their freedom for violating the law in such a manner.

Don’t forget too that Hillary Clinton herself warned about that very issue in January 2012 when it came to working from home. Jeryl Bier reminds us once again of this at the Weekly Standard:

I think we’ve got a variety of policies in place that are trying to make the Department a more family-friendly work environment. I know some of you have raised on the Sounding Board and through your chains, here, the question about more telework. Pat and I have talked about this. We have to determine which positions are eligible and which aren’t. A lot of the classified and confidential work can’t be outsourced, so to speak, to telework. So we are looking at that, we will continue to look at it, and we will try to support as much expansion of it as is possible. But I don’t want to overpromise, because there are inherent challenges.

Jeryl notes the breathtaking hypocrisy that this statement demonstrates:

Although Mrs. Clinton said in 2012 that she and the State Department needed “to determine which positions are eligible and which aren’t,” the secretary had apparently unilaterally determined her own position was eligible for such an arrangement despite the “classified and confidential work” which she herself had been engaged in since assuming office in 2009. Due to her travel schedule, Mrs. Clinton spent many days in various locations around the world, but at times worked from home, as well. Despite her assertion that she used a separate secure system for classified communications, it is increasingly clear that often classified materials found a way into her personal email, passing through and being stored on her private email server in her home in Chappaqua, New York.

That follows the Clintonian pattern of having laws for everyone else but a different standard for themselves. The laws on this issue are very clear, especially 18 USC 793 and 18 USC 1924. Anyone not named Hillary Clinton who did this would be hoping for a plea deal to avoid prison time, or more likely to minimize it. Don’t hold your breath for AOL’s servers to tell Hillary Clinton “You’ve got jail!” any time soon, though.