On the day of his arrival in 1968 as the U.S. ambassador to Bonn, West Germany, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. dropped a bombshell. Lodge said he believed everybody was entitled to one idiosyncrasy, and his was that at the end of the workday, all papers on his desk, including classified documents, should remain undisturbed until he returned the next morning.
At the time, I was a State Department special agent assigned to Bonn as part of a three-person team of regional security officers providing personnel and physical security for the embassy, all U.S. consulates in West Germany and the U.S. Mission in West Berlin.
We had good reason to be stunned.
West Germany in the 1960s was near ground zero in the Cold War. Few European countries had been more penetrated by foreign spies. American diplomatic missions were key targets.
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Lodge, nonetheless, prevailed.
Superiors in our chain of command did not order the ambassador to follow security rules. The word from on high: Make do; don’t let classified information fall into the wrong hands.
And it didn’t.
Security processes were enhanced to accommodate Lodge’s work habits: juggled Marine security guard assignments, rigged physical security devices and a few sleepless nights, all to ensure that materials deemed sensitive from the standpoint of national security were not compromised.
We were relieved to see Lodge go home in 1969.
Which brings us to Hillary Clinton and the FBI investigation into her personal email system when she was secretary of state.
By using her own, unclassified email servers to communicate and store highly sensitive government information – as the FBI established – Clinton, as with Lodge before her, placed personal interests above the obligation to properly protect classified information.
The difference is that, unlike in Lodge’s case, no one tried to save Clinton – and by extension, national security – from herself.
To the contrary, Clinton had enablers.
A May State Department inspector general’s report on email records management and cybersecurity during Clinton’s tenure said: “Two staff in (Clinton’s executive secretariat) reported . . . that, in late 2010, they each discussed their concerns about Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email account in separate meetings with the (director of the executive secretariat).”
“According to (one) staff member, the Director stated that the Secretary’s personal system had been reviewed and approved by Department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further,” the report said.
The Office of the Inspector General, it said, “found no evidence that staff in the Office of the Legal Adviser reviewed or approved Secretary Clinton’s personal system.”
The OIG also reported that the other staff member who raised concerns said the director stated that the executive secretariat’s “mission . . . is to support the Secretary and instructed the staff never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.”
What’s more, unlike with Lodge, classified information in Clinton’s custody could have been compromised.
The FBI found that “hostile actors” (read: foreign sources) gained access to private email accounts of people with whom Clinton was in regular contact through her personal account, and that she used her personal email overseas in “the territory of sophisticated adversaries” (read: Russia and China). It’s not far-fetched to think that her system may have been compromised.
Robert Gates, former defense secretary and CIA director, said as much. Noting that the Pentagon has acknowledged getting hacked “about 100,000 times a day,” Gates assessed the odds as “pretty high” that the Russians, Chinese and Iranians had compromised Clinton’s server.
I’m in no position to second-guess the FBI’s recommendation that, based upon the evidence, no criminal charges should be brought regarding Clinton’s handling of classified information.
But as FBI Director James Comey stated at his news briefing, people who have engaged in similar activities have been subject to security and administrative sanctions.
I know of such cases.
A Foreign Service officer sat in my office in Bonn with tears in his eyes because he feared that discovery of the latest in his string of security violations, albeit none willful, might result in the loss of his top-secret clearance and continued diplomatic service. He feared correctly.
Clinton and her colleagues, Comey said, were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” Now that the Justice Department has decided to turn the page on Clinton, the State Department said it will reopen an internal review of the handling of classified information and her email use.
Spoiler alert: Some career employees will be reprimanded.
Clinton and her inner circle, however, face no serious consequences, as they are no longer federal employees – until, perhaps, Inauguration Day 2017.
Donald Trump as an alternative is unthinkable.
My expressed view that Trump is “a dishonest, egotistical, vulgar, mean-spirited bully who resorts to foul religious and racial scapegoating and insults to cover his own insecurities” is irrevocable.
But that doesn’t mean Clinton’s disregard for proper security isn’t deplorable. She set a dreadful example for the national security community she seeks to lead.
Can she learn from this?
We live in hope.
What else have we got?
The Washington Post
Colbert I. King is the deputy editor of the editorial page at the Washington Post.