Divide and Classified: Why the E-mail Issue Continues and Confounds
“It’s because it was what they were ordered to do. Let me say that again: It’s because it was what they were ordered to do. Now, out in the real world, that means nothing. And here at the Washington Navy Yard, it doesn’t mean a whole lot more. But if you’re a Marine assigned to Rifle Security Company Windward, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and you’re given an order, you follow it or you pack your bags.” – Lieutenant Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee, as portrayed by Tom Cruise, A Few Good Men
I sincerely doubt Aaron Sorkin had the foggiest notion that a piece of his film script would be relevant to a political brouhaha a quarter-century later (to say nothing of David Brown, who wrote the original play in the 1980s), but lo and behold, the “Clinton Email” issue has become a real-life metaphor for the division of perspective addressed by the fictional Daniel Kaffee.
My own perspective on this comes from the sixteen years I have spent as a contractor for various agencies in the Department of Defense (and a far smaller time – a matter of months – working for non-DoD clients). Of course, both DoD and other Federal agencies have security protocols, including protocols regarding electronic information. However, the similarities end largely with their existence.
Now, out in the real world, that means nothing.
Of course, for most Americans, even the non-DoD Federal regulations on information security would seem a bit much, or a bit bewildering. The average workplace doesn’t have PIV security, let alone the average home (if you didn’t know PIV stood for Personal Identification Verification, you just proved my point). Most Americans are probably told to keep work and home emails separate, barring an unforeseen work emergency, but beyond that, “email security” doesn’t amount to much.
And here at the Washington Navy Yard, it doesn’t mean a whole lot more.
Within the Federal Government as a whole, there is a greater concern about security, as one would expect. However, much of that concernt outside DoD and the IC (Intelligence Community) revolves around securing and protecting the information of American citizens – PII and PHI (Personally Identifiable Information and Protected Health Information, respectively). The presumption is that outside threats (or insider threats) are looking to exploit identity theft possibilities and the like.
But if you’re a Marine assigned to Rifle Security Company Windward, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and you’re given an order, you follow it or you pack your bags.
I will acknowledge here that I have not spent time working with IC clients, but I have worked with DoD clients, and as far as DoD is concerned, it’s a whole different ball game.
Not only is their concern about information getting out of the DoD space, but even information that stays within DoD, but dropped to a security level too low, is a cause for alarm. The exact term is “spillage” – and the consquences can be severe. Even information leaked to the public yet still considered classified cannot be discussed. I spent five years working in a Secret-level facility, and there are certain subjects I can only discuss with the ten people in the room in which the subject was raised. More than once, I spoke in code to prevent anyone outside the office – including my fellow contractors and other civilians working in the same facility – from hearing something they weren’t supposed to hear (although I was later told all I had to was keep my voice down).
So, how does this relate Secretary Clinton’s emails?
Well, the perspective depends on the position.
If you are like most Americans – either in the private sector or in non-DoD government work – this issue was settled when FBI Director Jim Comey refused to recommend charges be filed. Whatever lax security culture the State Department chose to have (and boy, has that been an eye-opener for those of us with DoD experience), that was the State Department’s call. The notion that so many people can get upset about a private email server is not an easy concept for them to process.
However, for those of us with DoD experience, the entire blase attitude everyone else seems to have is utterly mind-boggling, and while I can’t speak for the IC, the fact that said IC has been just about the only Executive Branch entity consistently pushing this issue tells me they’re determined to make sure the incoming Administration’s State Department never behaves this way again. In other words, the notion that “no laws were broken” frightens us about Washington far more than it reassures us about Mrs. Clinton, or anyone else.
That is the divide among us that keeps this issue alive. Where you stand doesn’t quite depend on where you sit, but it’s certainly influenced by where – or in particular, in what Department – your email servers sits.