The classified emails stored on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private server contained information from five U.S. intelligence agencies and included material related to the fatal 2012 Benghazi attacks, McClatchy has learned.
Of the five classified emails, the one known to be connected to Benghazi was among 296 emails made public in May by the State Department. Intelligence community officials have determined it was improperly released.
Revelations about the emails have put Clinton in the crosshairs of a broadening inquiry into whether she or her aides mishandled classified information when she used a private server set up at her New York home to conduct official State Department business.
While campaigning for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton has repeatedly denied she ever sent or received classified information. Two inspectors general have indicated that five emails they have reviewed were not marked classified at the time they were stored on her private server but that the contents were in fact “secret.”
The email issue, however, has distracted from Clinton’s campaign for days and already has hurt her in public opinion polls. Besieged with questions, she has found herself caught in a murky dispute between State Department and intelligence officials over whether emails on her server were classified.
“Even if Secretary Clinton or her aides didn’t run afoul of any criminal provisions, the fact that classified information was identified within the emails is exactly why use of private emails . . . is not supposed to be allowed,” said Bradley Moss, a Washington attorney who specializes in national security matters. “Both she and her team made a serious management mistake that no one should ever repeat.”
McClatchy also has determined some details of the five emails that the intelligence community’s inspector general has described as classified and improperly handled.
Intelligence officials who reviewed the five classified emails determined that they included information from five separate intelligence agencies, said a congressional official with knowledge of the matter.
The Benghazi email made public contained information from the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a spy agency that maps and tracks satellite imagery, according to the official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General did not respond to questions about the matter. The five agencies either referred questions about it to the inspector general’s office or declined to comment.
The intelligence community inspector general only looked at a sample of 40 emails, even though a total of 30,000 emails were turned over to the State Department by Clinton.
In documents that were publicly released, Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough III said State Department officials had warned that there were “potentially hundreds of classified emails” on Clinton’s private server.
Clinton’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Clinton has maintained she used a personal email account as a “matter of convenience” and has denied she emailed any classified material.
“The facts are pretty clear,” Clinton said at a campaign stop Saturday in Iowa. “I did not send nor receive anything that was classified at the time.”
Clinton said she had “no idea” which emails the inspector general had singled out.
The State Department so far has not given the intelligence community inspector general a copy of the entire batch of emails, according to Andrea Williams, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office.
State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach pointed out that the department has allowed access to the emails.
“At the invitation of the State Department, a team of IC FOIA reviewers are reviewing emails and identifying those that might contain IC equities,” he said, meaning information that pertains to the intelligence community. “About a dozen members of the intelligence community are reviewing emails to identify their equities so that emails can be referred to their agencies.”
Gerlach said the intelligence community inspector general can also obtain emails from the organizations for which it has oversight responsibility.
The IC inspector general has authority to audit and investigate matters related to 17 intelligence community agencies, including a State Department intelligence unit.
On June 25, McCullough notified members of Congress that he understood that Clinton’s attorney, David Kendall, possessed the more than 30,000 Clinton emails on a computer thumb drive.
In a July 24 letter to FBI Director James Comey, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa expressed concern about “a compromise of national security information” because of Kendall’s possession of the thumb drive. He called on Comey to explain what steps the FBI had taken to secure the information.
“This raises very serious questions and concerns if a private citizen is somehow retaining classified information,” wrote Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Kendall did not respond to phone and email messages. The FBI and the Justice Department declined to say whether security officials had recovered the device or had arranged for its secure storage.
John Fitzpatrick, the official responsible for overseeing the government’s security classification system, told McClatchy that during the review of four years of Clinton’s State Department emails it became clear that intelligence agencies were concerned State Department officials were not appropriately protecting classified information in screening documents for public release.
State Department officials routinely gather and report diplomatic information that “in an intelligence context could be read very differently,” said Fitzpatrick, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives.
Government employees with access to classified information are trained to identify classified information, Fitzpatrick said.
“The requirement to mark is so that you know it when you see it,” he said. “Failure to observe any of the requirements for marking or safeguarding would be in a category known as a security violation.”
Failing to properly mark information as classified would not necessarily result in criminal charges, he said.
“But there can be consequences for holders of security clearances,” Fitzpatrick said. “If they fail to safeguard the information, once or as part of a pattern, they can be administratively reprimanded” or retrained.
Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Inspector General Steve Linick will meet this week to talk about the issue, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Wednesday.
“Secretary Kerry wants to get to the bottom of this, hear what the concerns are and then figure out if they need to take any action,” Schultz said. “So, I think that’s the right step and we support him doing so.”
The White House has not said that Clinton did not follow rules, but it has repeatedly said that “very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees in the Obama administration should use their official email accounts when they’re conducting official government business.”
The House Select Committee on Benghazi subpoenaed the emails while asking Clinton to voluntarily turn over her personal email server to a “neutral, detached and independent” third party for “immediate inspection and review,” perhaps the State Department’s inspector general.
Clinton’s attorney told the committee that Clinton permanently deleted all the emails from the server – apparently after she was asked by the State Department to turn them over. Clinton has refused to hand over the server.
The State Department has begun to release her emails in response to a public records lawsuit, though four of the emails containing classified information were among those that have not yet been released. The next batch is due to be released Friday. Clinton has agreed to testify about her email arrangements on Oct. 22 before the committee investigating Benghazi.
Jonathan S. Landay of the Washington Bureau contributed.