By Rep. Kristi Noem
Some degree of confidential communications has existed in America since George Washington’s time as general in the Revolutionary War. But as the global landscape became increasingly complex and the stakes of a single information leak rose, the system used to protect that information evolved from a gentlemen’s agreement to a formal national security classification system.
The modern version we operate under today dates back to World War II when – at the urging of Albert Einstein and other scientists – it became necessary to ensure information related to the atomic bomb remained secure. Just as during World War II, what earns a classification today must remain undisclosed for the continued safety and security of the United States. No exceptions can be made.
In January 2009, just days before assuming the role of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton set up an unauthorized email server in an unsecured location over which both personal and official emails would be transmitted. Few in the general public knew of the set up before a House investigation into the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, uncovered it in 2015.
In the months since, we have learned that tens of thousands of State Department emails were sent through that server, including more than 100 that contained classified information at the time they were sent. Eight of those email chains included Top Secret information, which under federal rules means the information would cause “exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”
Despite the sensitivity of the information, the email server was left physically and virtually unprotected. Getting a Gmail account would have been more secure, according to FBI Director James Comey.
The consequences are real. Comey explained hostile actors may have gained access to the information. In fact, the FBI was able to confirm hostile actors did gain access to the private email accounts of individuals Clinton was in regular contact with.
Despite all this, no indictment of Clinton or her staff was made, a decision the FBI says was because Clinton didn’t mean to put our national security at risk with the careless behavior. Regardless of intentions, carelessly mishandling classified information breaks the public’s trust and jeopardizes our national security and the safety of our troops and diplomats abroad.
With so many serious questions remaining, I am actively fighting to keep America’s classified information – and in turn, the American people – secure.
Following the Democratic National Convention at the end of this month, Clinton is expected to begin receiving classified intelligence briefings. Without the public’s overt permission in November, this level of access should not be given to someone who has historically acted carelessly with our national security.
Shortly after Comey’s announcement, I joined Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul and others in supporting the TRUST Act, which would revoke Clinton’s security clearance as well as the security clearances of her colleagues at the State Department who were also careless in their handling of classified information. Additionally, the legislation would express Congress’s desire to keep classified information out of Clinton’s hands until she earns the legal right to such access.
I have also reached out directly to Comey with questions about the process he used to make a recommendation against indictment as well as the precedent this decision will set. It is imperative we have clarity and accountability on this.
I firmly believe there is a great responsibility that comes with access to classified information. Only those who will treat it with the extreme care it merits should have access. No one should get an exception to that rule.