RUMINT (Rumor Intelligence) is rife with reports that Russian intelligence agencies are preparing to release emails “hacked” from Hillary Clinton’s rogue Internet email server.
Agreed, this sounds a bit like a blackmail plot in a 1940s radio detective thriller or a soap opera. Except it isn’t. We live in a world where blood gets spilled.
I’ve read through several reports about the possible Russian information release, ranging from the staid, professional analysis to the wild Hollywood excitement—breathless. One of the more interesting analyses appeared a few days ago on oilprice.com, a site devoted to analyzing the global oil industry and forecasting trends:
“Reliable intelligence sources in the West have indicated that warnings had been received that the Russian Government could in the near future release the text of email messages intercepted from U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server from the time she was U.S. Secretary of State. The release would, the messaging indicated, prove that Secretary Clinton had, in fact, laid open U.S. secrets to foreign interception by putting highly-classified Government reports onto a private server in violation of U.S. law, and that, as suspected, the server had been targeted and hacked by foreign intelligence services.”
Close readers will note that staid paragraph is freighted with two things: (1) speculation, based on hearsay from unnamed sources; and (2) legitimate worry, based on real experience and awareness of consequences. The speculation is a scenario, a “could be.”
No one doubts that Clinton’s server could be hacked. Known facts indicate it was probed by hackers and likely hacked. On June 8 the Associated Press published an article summarizing information gleaned from released emails and discussing the likelihood that foreign intelligence services had hacked Clinton’s definitely not-approved off-the-record and therefore illegal system.
“…because both Clinton’s server and the State Department systems were vulnerable to hacking, the perpetrators could have those original emails, and now the publicly released, redacted versions showing exactly which sections refer to CIA personnel.
“Start with the entirely plausible view that foreign intelligence services discovered and rifled Hillary Clinton’s server,” said Stewart Baker, a Washington lawyer who spent more than three years as an assistant secretary of the Homeland Security Department and is former legal counsel for the National Security Agency. If so, those infiltrators would have copies of all her emails with the names not flagged as being linked to the agency.”
The names Baker refers to are those of U.S. intelligence officers. Read the report. He suggests they may have been compromised.
Writing “Ouch” doesn’t convey my personal dismay. As I noted in an earlier Observer essay:
“I carried a Top Secret clearance for over three decades. I understand the system we have in place to protect national security information. The system has excesses and inadequacies, but there are common sense procedures for dealing with mistakes, excesses and inadequacies. I respect the system’s purpose because I know the stakes. The system exists for a reason: the world is a dangerous place. Freedom is precious and fragile. Defending America—which still means defending freedom, and I’ll take on anyone who disagrees—requires keeping secrets.”
I also discussed the possibility that Clinton’s rogue communication system could have compromised the identities of U.S. intelligence officers and human intelligence assets (HUMINT, human intelligence sources, i.e., flesh and blood, people who risk their lives to provide the U.S. with intelligence information).
That essay mentions the Valerie Plame case, in which a CIA officer’s name was identified by a Bush Administration official. Plame was no longer working under cover. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald convicted I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, an aide to then-Vice President Cheney on perjury charges, not for revealing Plame’s name. However, Fitzgerald thought his prosecution served a national security purpose. “The notion,” Fitzgerald said, “that someone’s identity could be compromised lightly, to me, compromises the ability to recruit [i.e., for the US to recruit intelligence officers].”
I agreed with Fitzgerald. Covert intelligence work is difficult. Intelligence officers—who by the very nature of their work are fully engaged in protecting U.S. national security—are vulnerable.
In Hillary Clinton’s judgment, protecting her political viability was more important than protecting U.S. national security. Keeping her work-related communications from the clutches of federal record maintenance laws and the Freedom of Information Act was more important than following the laws protecting the handling of national security-related information.
Remember, in the 2008, Clinton claimed she’s prepared to answer the emergency phone call in the wee hours of the morning. Huh?
But let’s get back to Vlad Putin. It’s now evident to all but the willfully stupid that in their 2012 presidential campaign debate Mitt Romney was right about Russia and Barack Obama wrong: Russia led by Vladimir Putin is a geo-political adversary, if not quite a dyed-in-the-wool enemy.
Obama mocked him. In February 2014, Putin-led Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. In March 2014 the Kremlin annexed the region. That smashed the 1994 Budapest Accord, one of the documents that provided the diplomatic framework for political stability in post-Cold War eastern Europe. The Clinton Administration backed the Budapest Accord.
I think Vladimir Putin has demonstrated a willingness to do anything that gains him an advantage, especially with little risk.
The FBI is allegedly interested in the Clinton Foundation and is looking for emails on Clinton’s rogue system that may relate to Clinton Foundation business. Agreed, that’s more speculation. American Thinker, commenting on a Washington Examiner report, pointed out that known facts regarding the Clinton Global Initiative (a Foundation initiative) are rather damning and if the Clintons were Republicans we would be treated to a constant torrent of reports about possible corruption. Is it fair to speculate that the Kremlin is also interested in the Clinton Foundation? The Examiner reported on June 13 that “Less than half of the projects undertaken by the Clinton Global Initiative (since 2005) have been completed…” The American Thinker wonders if New York’s attorney general will investigate.
More troublesome are characters like Canadian investor Victor Dahdaleh.
Yahoo.com notes that Dahdaleh claims to be a trustee of the Clinton Foundation—at least his website says so. A Toronto Star investigation of the Panama Papers connects Dahdaleh to a global bribery case.
Dahdaleh’s involvement with the Clinton Foundation does not appear to be illegal. However, shady characters do shady things, and when the intelligence services of foreign adversaries can connect the leaders of democracies—to say nothing of a sitting U.S. president—to crooked activities, blackmail becomes a strategic tool, even if it is used as a threat.
This is a speculation, a scenario. However, the U.S. military and NATO regularly use speculative scenarios to analyze verifiable as well as potential threats. They use scenarios to create field exercises to train troops for potential operations in non-speculative, for damn real on-going wars.
The truth is, Hillary Clinton doesn’t know what the Russians may or may not know—nor does Barack Obama. The FBI and CIA might have some good guesses, but they don’t know for certain. In the mirror world of intelligence, it is possible the Kremlin doesn’t know what it knows.
Russian blackmail classifies as a potential threat, and another reason I believe a full and complete investigation of Hillary Clinton’s national security crime requires a special prosecutor. By the way, on June 14 U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan referred to the FBI investigation as a “criminal investigation,” confirming what White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said June 9. The executive and judicial branches are now in agreement.
So. Will Vlad blackmail Hillary? Or, “When Will Vlad blackmail Hillary?” Sure, it’s speculation. It’s a scenario. It’s like a radio-era detective serial.
Stay tuned for the next episode.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story implied that Scooter Libby had been the first to reveal Valerie Plame’s identity; in fact, it was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage who first leaked that information.
Austin Bay is a contributing editor at StrategyPage.com and adjunct professor at the University of Texas in Austin. His most recent book is a biography of Kemal Ataturk (Macmillan 2011). Mr. Bay is a retired US Army Reserve colonel and Iraq veteran. He has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.