In 2011 and 2012, several messages concerning impending drone strikes in Pakistan were routed to Hillary Clinton’s private email server, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing congressional and law-enforcement officials briefed on the FBI investigation into Clinton’s email use.
These emails were part of a clandestine arrangement by which the Central Intelligence Agency gave the State Department a say in whether specific drone attacks carried out by the agency on suspected militant targets went ahead. They were sent to the State Department via the “low side” (a computer system for unclassified material) and forwarded by aides to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.
The Journal’s sources described the messages, which have not been made public, as “vaguely worded,” adding that they did not contain mention of the “CIA,” “drones,” or any details about the targets. The messages were typically time-sensitive, as the State Department usually had a limited window to object to a strike before the CIA carried it out. State Department officials told the FBI that they used the less secure “low side” system on occasions when decisions had to be made quickly and diplomats did not have immediate access to a higher-security system.
Although anyone with internet access knows about it, the CIA treats the drone program as top-secret, and officials are barred from discussing it publicly.
Law-enforcement officials still don’t expect any criminal charges to result from this finding, as it is not uncommon for government workers to use the low-side system under such circumstances. There is also no evidence that Pakistani intelligence intercepted any of the emails or used them to shield targets.
Nonetheless, Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency, can expect her Republican opponent Donald Trump to make hay while the sun shines on these new revelations. Trump has said that Clinton is “guilty as hell” and “has got to go to jail” over the email scandal, and signaled that he plans to make this controversy a centerpiece of his campaign against her.
And it’s not just Trump: A recent State Department audit harshly criticized Clinton for using a private server while at the department, which it said was in violation of federal rules.