Classification Rules Haunting Clinton Are Under Review, Clapper Says

  • Intelligence chief says agencies ‘guilty’ of overclassifying
  • Without mentioning Clinton, Clapper calls procedures outdated

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper speaks at the 2016 Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington on Sept. 7, 2016.

Photographer: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. intelligence officials are considering a fundamental overhaul of the process used to classify information, possibly doing away with the low-level designation of “confidential” that contributed to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s troubles.

Without mentioning Clinton or the inquiries into her use of a private e-mail system, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday that intelligence agencies are "guilty" of overclassifying material.

"At some point there will need to be, I believe, a fairly fundamental change in the classification system," Clapper said at the annual Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington. "The rules we have today really are not compatible with the technology and the way we conduct our business."

Clapper said his office has started to receive recommendations for changes from intelligence agencies. "There are proposals going around," he said, "one of which is why don’t we just not bother with ‘confidential.’ That would somewhat simply the system."

The DNI chief’s comments could provide some cover for Clinton and her campaign team. They have argued that e-mails she sent and received from a private server in her home didn’t disclose sensitive material even though FBI Director James Comey described Clinton and her aides as having been “extremely careless” in handling such information.

Clinton’s critics have seized on an FBI finding that she didn’t recognize that the "(c)" markings in three e-mails indicated the confidential level of classification.

Related story: Clinton Left Politically Exposed by FBI Report

Clinton’s campaign also has been hurt by the publication on WikiLeaks of hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee, which U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts attribute to groups affiliated with the Russian government.

Clapper said Wednesday that “the Russians hack our systems all the time, not just government but also corporate and personal systems.” He said cybersecurity “will continue to be a huge problem” for the next president.

Without commenting on whether Russia was behind the stealing of Democrats’ e-mails, he said such attacks are examples of how “people all around the world, not just opposing parties, want to know what the candidates are thinking.”

Putin Interview

Russian officials have repeatedly dismissed accusations that they hack the U.S. President Vladimir Putin said in an interview last week that it doesn’t matter who is behind the intrusions but that “the important thing is the content that was given the public.”

Clapper also sought to tamp down fears that the upcoming presidential transition will be chaotic. Although the presidential election cycle has been “sportier than usual,” the transition “will be OK,” he said.

Clapper said he met with the transition teams for Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump two weeks ago. He said he was struck by how “sober and professional and courteous and civil the conversation was.”

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