The Clinton Breach: Like Manning, Snowden, and the OPM Hack, the Mishandling of Diplomatic Communications Is a Counterintelligence Breach

Nicholas Hanlon
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Posted: Sep 08, 2015 2:29 PM
The Clinton Breach: Like Manning, Snowden, and the OPM Hack, the Mishandling of Diplomatic Communications Is a Counterintelligence Breach

Foreign spies now know more about Hilary Clinton's approach to foreign policy than U.S. voters do and intelligence about what diplomats think is valuable currency in the world of intelligence. Assume, for example, that Russian intelligence either possessed Wikileak cables of the Secretary of State's views on negotiating with the Taliban or that Russia’s intelligence services had already waltzed through Hillary Clinton's un-encrypted server back in 2009. Letting the Taliban know how urgently the U.S. wanted to cut a deal would automatically have put the Taliban in a stronger negotiating position. It would have been a no-brainer for Russian intelligence to pass that information on to Qatari intelligence or the Taliban either directly or indirectly.

That is a hypothetical but look what happened in real life. The Bergdahl deal went down after Clinton left office but she was able to control how U.S. voters saw her role through her post-State Department autobiography. Clinton made it look like she was the proponent of a tougher deal after seeing how the actual deal played out in the press. Who knows the truth? Maybe the Russians.

The former head of Taliban intelligence himself, Abdul Haq Wasiq was released in the Bergdahl deal. If you don't know much about Talibani intelligence, they were wily enough to penetrate the CIA with Jordanian double agent, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. Balawi killed 7 CIA employees at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. That attack occurred in December of 2009, right at the beginning of Secretary Clinton's tenure. The FOB Chapman attack is a true flash point in history for those outside the clandestine world to catch a glimpse of how consequential and potentially lethal a foreign intelligence entity can be.

Such a lesson was clearly lost on then Secretary of State of Clinton, as we learn about how cavalier she was in her correspondence about the the attitudes of U.S. policy with foreign diplomats and intelligence chiefs.

Keep those things in mind as the Clinton email breach unfolds. The Clintonian word parsing has the advantageous effect of making this issue sound as trivial as whether a former Secretary lied or sent classified information on the wrong email address. But the reality is that national security and U.S. foreign policy were automatically compromised and undermined from the start and Secretary Clinton must have known it.

The day after the email story broke, back in early March, I happened to be having lunch with a seasoned foreign service officer. He was deeply bothered because he knew immediately from the news that if he had created a similar breach with the same behavior that he would lose his job and be looking at jail time.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed the IT employee who set up the server, Ryan Pagliano, who will reportedly plead the 5th amendment. Now that the FBI investigation is under way, the (metaphorical) tooth pulling process of getting to the truth will be long and drawn out. The primary task now is to do a damage assessment to determine how extensive the breach was. John R. Schindler, former counterintelligence professional and author of the blog 20 Committee noted in a recent Daily Beast article that others in the Administration besides Clinton may be burned by this intelligence breach.

Think about the legacy of U.S. foreign policy from the time that email server was set up. There was the Russian reset, the Crimean invasion, Chinese naval hostility in the Pacific, Benghazi, Boko Haram, Syria, the failure to secure a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq, followed by ISIS, the Taliban Five-Bergdahl trade, the Iranian nuclear program. Who held the upper hand when it came to the U.S. State Department negotiating these issues? The U.S. or our adversaries? Was it worth exposing U.S. foreign policy to such vulnerabilities by moving diplomatic communiques through a private server?