Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal e-mail account contained some information that should have been classified and transmitted over a secure network, the U.S. intelligence community’s inspector general has found.
The federal watchdog asked the FBI to review whether potentially classified material within Clinton’s e-mails had been jeopardized during a State Department review of the documents, in preparation for releasing them publicly. The official, Charles McCullough III, also raised concerns that “potentially hundreds” of e-mails containing information that may be classified could still exist on both Clinton’s private server and a thumb drive in possession of her attorney.
“Our office is statutorily required to refer compromises of national security information,” Andrea Williams, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, said in an e-mail statement. Williams released a copy of McCullough’s report summary that was shared with the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Officials stressed that the inspector general had not referred the issue as a possible criminal violation -- contrary to statements made, and then retracted, by Justice Department officials.
The intelligence community’s inspector general “did not make a criminal referral -- it was a security referral made for counterintelligence purposes,” McCullough and Steve Linick, the State Department’s inspector general, said in a joint statement.
It was unclear if Clinton herself had done anything wrong, since it involved materials that had either been retroactively deemed classified, or never properly marked.
Still, the developments created another headache for Clinton’s presidential campaign, which has been besieged by questions over her use of the private e-mail server. Critics say the arrangement put valuable intelligence information at risk and could be exploited to shield her from congressional inquiries or public records requests.
Clinton has said that the use of private e-mail while serving as the nation’s top diplomat was a matter of convenience. A spokesman on Friday said she had “followed appropriate practices in dealing with classified materials.”
“Any released e-mails deemed classified by the administration have been done so after the fact, and not at the time they were transmitted,” campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement.
Clinton briefly addressed the issue at the start of an economic policy address she delivered Friday in New York. “There have been a lot of inaccuracies” in reports about the inquiries, she said. “Maybe the heat is getting to everybody.”
The intelligence community IG’s report said that none of the e-mails reviewed by its office was labeled as classified.
“We note that none of the e-mails we reviewed had classification or dissemination markings, but some included IC-derived classified information and should have been handled as classified, appropriately marked, and transmitted via a secure network,” McCullough said.
At a minimum, Clinton was sloppy, or even careless, in how she dealt with sensitive information on a private, insecure server, according to one U.S. official with knowledge of the request for an FBI review.
The report said McCullough’s office had sampled 40 e-mails and found that four contained classified intelligence community information that should have been marked and handled at the secret level. Material classified Top Secret is considered far more sensitive than that with the two lower levels: Confidential and Secret.
The referral by the intelligence community watchdog followed a June 29 memo that the intelligence community inspector general and the State Department inspector general sent to Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, saying that hundreds of e-mails in Clinton’s private account may improperly contain classified material.
Other memos from the two officials said the State Department risked the release of potentially classified information if they did not take a series of steps, including requesting support from the intelligence community and Justice Department to help review the e-mails.
While steps taken by the State Department after those concerns were raised satisfied the concerns of the inspectors general, the watchdogs said they remained worried that the State Department was using a classified -- but not top secret -- system to handle the e-mails.
The officials also expressed concern that the State Department is serving as the final arbiter of whether e-mails were classified, saying that process may not sufficiently address the intelligence community’s concerns. And, according to one of the memos, at least one piece of classified material was already publicly disclosed when the State Department released a tranche of Clinton e-mails earlier this year.
The State Department, in a series of response memos, defended the current practice as sufficient in preventing the public disclosure of classified material.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday that the four e-mails cited by the intelligence community watchdog weren’t classified at the time.
“To our knowledge none of them needed to be,” he said.
(An earlier version of this article corrected the Justice Department’s description of probe.)