Hillary Clinton likes to point out that she is not the first senior national security official to conduct official business on a home computer system. She’s right about that, but the precedent should not give the Democratic presidential front-runner much comfort.
Former CIA director John Deutch was also found to have stored classified documents — including top-secret intelligence — on computers in his homes in Bethesda and Belmont, Mass., leading to an investigation by the CIA inspector general and a criminal investigation by the Justice Department. Deutch was stripped of his security clearance and ended up reaching a plea agreement admitting to his crimes — but was saved by a last-minute pardon from none other than . . . President Bill Clinton.
The parallels between the Deutch and Clinton cases suggest that come January 2017, instead of planning her presidential transition, Clinton may find herself lobbying for a last-minute pardon of her own.
On Feb. 18, 2000, the CIA inspector general issued a scathing report in which he found that throughout his tenure as director, Deutch had processed “large volumes of highly classified information” on unprotected home computers. After the computers were seized, he wrote, “a technical exploitation team, consisting of personnel expert in data recovery, retrieved the data from Deutch’s unclassified magnetic media and computers” and found “classified information . . . related to covert action, Top Secret communications intelligence and the National Reconnaissance Program budget.”
Among the classified documents found on Deutch’s hard drive and memory cards were multiple memorandums to the president and vice president that “contained information at the Top Secret/Codeword level.” The specific information was redacted in the inspector general’s public report, but Newsweek reported that it included documents related to Iraq and a 1996 terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. troops.
In one case, the data recovery team discovered that “[t]he files on [a memory] card with the unclassified sticker had been erased; however, the contract network engineer was able to recover data by the use of a commercially available software utility.” He found top-secret information on it.
Another parallel with Clinton: The inspector general found that Deutch had used the same unclassified computers to process both classified information and conduct personal business, which made the “classified information residing on Deutch’s computers . . . vulnerable to possible electronic access and exploitation.”
The inspector general blasted Deutch for his failure to follow an “elementary practice . . . to separately process classified and unclassified information,” adding that “[b]ecause Deutch’s computers configured for unclassified use had connections to the Internet, all classified information on those computers was at risk of compromise.”
The same could be said of Clinton. Indeed, we know that Chinese hackers successfully penetrated the private e-mail accounts of “many” senior Obama White House officials. If investigators find that Clinton’s private server containing top-secret intelligence was penetrated by foreign intelligence service, she is going to be in serious trouble.
But here is one important difference: While Deutch expressed regret for putting classified information at risk, Clinton is making public jokes about it — joking about wiping her server “with a cloth” and signing up for a Snapchat account because “those messages disappear all by themselves.”
I’m sure the folks at the FBI investigating her e-mail setup found that funny.
The inspector general’s report also includes a note for caution for anyone in the bureaucracy who is thinking of protecting Clinton from proper scrutiny. In the Deutch case, the inspector general took CIA officials to task for failing to properly investigate “Deutch’s continued suitability for access to classified information” and criticized the agency for its failure to submit “a crimes report to the Department of Justice.”
His classified report (which was later made public in unclassified form) spurred action. CIA director George Tenet stripped Deutch of his security clearances. And the Justice Department, which initially declined to launch a criminal investigation, finally did so. The Post reported that on Jan. 19, 2001, Deutch reached a plea bargain agreement admitting guilt, “but too late to file it in court that day.” President Clinton intervened, pardoning Deutch a day later in his final hours in office. Since the pardon obviated the plea agreement, the document was never filed or made public.
When Deutch was stripped of his security clearance, he admitted that “in hindsight it is clear that I should have insisted that I be provided the means of accomplishing [my] work in a manner fully consistent with all the security rules. No one, including the Director, is exempt from compliance with these rules.” He’s right. No one, including the secretary of state, is exempt from compliance with those rules either — as Hillary Clinton may soon find out.