By H.A. Goodman, contributor
Hillary Clinton might not have broken any laws, but then again, one can breach security protocol and endanger national security simply by making unwise decisions. The former secretary of State's desire to have a private server (for the sake of "convenience") has overshadowed much of the presidential election coverage, without any benefit to the nation, with the Clinton campaign debating security agencies over the definition of classified or unclassified material.
Edward Snowden did break the law, but his actions resulted in a national dialogue about domestic surveillance and forced "needed transparency" — in the words of James Clapper, director of national intelligence — within the shadowy world of domestic spying. Furthermore, while he leaked a tremendous amount of intelligence, the "Top Secret" emails located in the private server of a secretary of State (if indeed Clinton's server didn't have adequate protection) could easily have gotten into enemy hands; it's feasible that North Korean hackers would have an easier time breaking into a private server than a government server.
We now know the extent of America's domestic spying programs because of Snowmen's transgressions and what he did can't legally be defined as treason. His actions weren't motivated by payment from an American enemy, like Aldrich Ames or Robert Hanssen, and when viewed objectively, the end result of his actions could easily be seen as patriotic. In reality, he's a whistleblower who broke the law and no more a threat to national security than when Henry Kissinger claimed Daniel Ellsberg was "the most dangerous man in America" who "must be stopped at all costs."
Yes, Snowden leaked secrets willingly, but Clinton might have leaked secrets simply from knowing too little ("Like with a cloth or something?") or too much about how to hide correspondence from colleagues and government servers. For a defense, Clinton recently stated, "I did not send classified material, and I did not receive any material that was marked or designated classified."
With each passing day, however, these declarations become overshadowed by a growing mountain of evidence indicating that security protocol was breached, even if such behavior was allowed by the State Department. First, Clinton's attorney handed over her email server and thumb drive to the FBI, which is currently investigating the security of Clinton's private email setup. Second, dozens of Clinton's emails were classified from the start, or "born classified," as a former Information Security Oversight Office director noted, so the Clinton campaign can't make the excuse that intelligence agencies retroactively classified intelligence.
While the Clinton campaign has vehemently defended against sending or receiving classified information that was always deemed classified, Reuters explains that "the details included in those 'Classified' stamps — which include a string of dates, letters and numbers describing the nature of the classification — appear to undermine this account."
Most importantly, Clinton did indeed receive classified information on an unprotected (or at least a network not protected by government security) server. According to a recent New York Times article, Clinton's server housed classified and Top Secret emails:
A special intelligence review of two emails that Hillary Rodham Clinton received as secretary of state on her personal account — including one about North Korea's nuclear weapons program — has endorsed a finding by the inspector general for the intelligence agencies that the emails contained highly classified information when Mrs. Clinton received them, senior intelligence officials said. ...
But the special review — by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency — concluded that the emails were "Top Secret," the highest classification of government intelligence, when they were sent to Mrs. Clinton in 2009 and 2011. ...
I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the intelligence community, found the two emails containing what he determined was "Top Secret" information in the course of reviewing a sampling of 40 of Mrs. Clinton’s work-related emails for potential security breaches.
Therefore, while Clinton claims not to have sent or received classified information, The New York Times reports that both the CIA and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency found that her emails contained "highly classified" and Top Secret (one regarding North Korea's nuclear program) information. In addition, Top Secret emails were found in a sample of just 40 emails, and there were over 60,000 emails on private server Wired deemed a "security fail."
It's important to note that while 30,490 of Clinton's emails were handed over to the State Department, Clinton and her team deleted 31,830 emails without any oversight, and the emails she disclosed to the government will be made public every two months. Yes, it was legal for her to delete these private emails, but nobody knows if they were truly private, or if she deleted even more sensitive information than the data already found by intelligence agencies thus far.
The fact that such information was stored on a private server, without government protection, is bizarre enough. However, the revelation that both Bill and Hillary Clinton paid a former aide to manage her email setup is even more peculiar. According to CNN, Bryan Pagliano was paid to manage the server of America's secretary of State:
Hillary and Bill Clinton personally paid the State Department staffer who managed their private email server, a spokesman for Clinton's campaign confirmed on Saturday. ...
Pagliano, an IT specialist, informed Congress through his lawyer earlier this week that he will invoke the Fifth Amendment.
According to Clinton supporters, there's nothing wrong with using a private server as secretary of State, or receiving classified information on that server, since Hillary Clinton is obviously trustworthy and wouldn't knowingly compromise national security.
But who vetted the people Clinton paid to manage her private server? Most importantly, why do supporters of Clinton simply assume that nothing nefarious could have been contained within the 31,830 emails deleted unilaterally by her and her staff, or that nobody has hacked her private email setup? That's a tremendous amount of trust being given to the former secretary of State, even though most Americans don't find her trustworthy.
If polls are any indication of why Snowden should be treated in the same manner as Clinton, let's compare how both are viewed by the American public. According to HuffPost Pollster, 55 percent of registered voters according to CNN have an "unfavorable" view of Clinton. Yahoo! writes that "More Americans distrust Hillary Clinton than trust her" and according to CNN, 57 percent of Americans say she is "not honest and trustworthy." In 2016, these trust issues have extended to swing states, and Quinnipiac University finds that voters in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania believe Clinton is "not honest and trustworthy."
In contrast, a Pew Research report explains that Snowden's overall impact on a large percentage of Americans has been positive:
Young adults are significantly more supportive than their elders of Edward Snowden and his leaks of classified details of the National Security Agency's telephone and internet surveillance programs, a new Pew Research Center/USA TODAY survey finds.
57% of 18- to 29-year olds said the leaks have served rather than harmed the public interest — almost exact mirrors of the 65-and-over age group.
Younger people believe Snowden served the country by disclosing domestic spying practices, while nobody believes Clinton served the country by using a private server and potentially compromising "classified" information. Yet, Clinton is deemed worthy of the presidency while many voters view Snowden to be a traitor.
Furthermore, Ron Fournier in National Journal summarized the Snowden debate by stating the following:
Love him or hate him, we all owe Snowden our thanks for forcing upon the nation an important debate. But the debate shouldn't be about him. It should be about the gnawing questions his actions raised from the shadows.
It's true that regardless of one’s view of Snowden, most people agree that there's a national debate attributed to Snowden breaking the law and leaking intelligence files.
Hero or traitor, Snowden fostered a critical debate in our country. Clinton simply engaged in the unprecedented act of owning a private server and using it while classified and Top Secret information flowed through its channels. If Clinton can store classified and Top Secret emails on her private server, apologize on Facebook for doing so and claim no laws were broken (therefore nullifying the issue of various breaches of security), and then simply expect to win the presidency, then such trust and leniency should also be afforded to Snowden. The intelligence community should grant Edward Snowden clemency and bring him home, especially in light of the fact that we now have a presidential candidate who truly believes there was nothing wrong with owning a private server as secretary of State.
Edward Snowden has done a lot more good for America by breaking the law than Hillary Clinton did by being "above board" — as Clinton has termed it — with her private email server. If many voters are simply fine with a private server being used for "convenience" while possibly inadvertently jeopardizing U.S. intelligence, then the least we owe Snowden, for bringing the issue of domestic spying to the forefront of the American consciousness, is a ticket back home.