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Hamiilton: Classified Documents 101: FBI training

Bill Hamilton.

Bill Hamilton.

With less than one-half of one-percent of Americans serving in our armed forces, most Americans are never burdened with the responsibility of handling classified national security information. As a result, all the news about non-secure e-mails and non-secure e-mail servers may seem — to the uninitiated — like much ado about nothing. But here is the back story:

On December 29, 2009, selected cabinet members, to include Secretary of State, Hillary R. Clinton, were granted “Original Classification Authority,” meaning President Obama delegated to them the power to classify sensitive national security information as either Secret or Top Secret. Shortly thereafter, the FBI conducted a two-hour class on the care and handling of highly sensitive national security information for those granted “Original Classification Authority,”

During those two hours, the attendees were admonished to recognize information the unauthorized disclosure of which would be harmful to the interests of the U.S. Government (USG) — whether already marked classified or not — and, depending on the information’s sensitivity, to declare it to be either Secret or Top Secret. An awesome responsibility.

The attendees were instructed on the format of classified documents: If a paragraph contains only CONFIDENTIAL information. The paragraph is marked with the letter “C” enclosed by parenthesis. For example: (C). If a paragraph contains SECRET information, the paragraph begins with: (S). A TOP SECRET paragraph begins with: (TS). The overall classification of a document is dictated by its most sensitive paragraph.

If the information is not to be shared even with our allies, it is also marked (NOFORN). There are classifications more sensitive than TOP SECRET and marked, for example as: (TS SAP) for TOP SECRET, SPECIAL ACCESS PROGRAM. TS SAP documents can only be viewed or discussed inside a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). As a long-time member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Hillary Clinton was inside the SCIF hidden in the U.S. Capitol on several occasions and, no doubt, received the FBI security briefing at least once before she served on the Armed Services Committee.

Moreover, the Special Access Program (SAP) designation can be applied to any level of classification because SAP has to do with the “sources and methods” by which the sensitive information is obtained from electronic listening devices, human intelligence (our spies) and/or by NSA satellite communications interceptions.

The FBI admonishes attendees to not “talk around” classified information. For example, referring to a spy recruited by the CIA and working for the USG inside Iran as “our friend” in a non-secure e-mail routed through a non-secure server might result in the arrest and execution of “our friend,” which, sadly, it did in real life. See: National Review, August 8: “Iranians Execute Scientist Mentioned in Clinton’s E-Mails.”

As stated in this column back on January 25: “It is an awesome responsibility to handle sensitive information which, if compromised, could expose the planting of a bug, could cause spies to be caught, tortured, and executed, and could cause our enemies to take extra measures to foil our communications intercept capabilities, leaving the United States blind to enemy intentions and capabilities. How big a deal is exposing sensitive national security information to potential hackers? We report. You decide.”

Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the Army Language School, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.