NBC News Rebuts Right-Wing Media Claim That Clinton Emails Reveal Names Of Undercover Operatives

Story Originated With Observer Columnist Who Resigned From Naval War College Following Investigation Into Erratic Behavior

NBC News has rebutted the allegation that a set of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails that are being withheld from public release by the State Department revealed the names of undercover intelligence operatives, a claim that had been trumpeted by the right-wing media. The allegation originated with an anonymously-sourced report issued by John Schindler, a columnist who was resigned from the Naval War College following an investigation into his erratic behavior.

State Department Withholds Clinton Emails At Request Of Intelligence Community

State Department: Seven Email Chains Will Be Withheld From Freedom of Information Act Production, No Emails Marked Classified At Time They Were Sent. In a January 29 statement, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said that seven email chains would be held from the Department's regular production of Clinton emails for public viewing after they were “upgraded at the request of the Intelligence Community because they contain a category of Top Secret information.” Kirby added that “These documents were not marked classified at the time they were sent.” [Kirby statement, 1/29/16, via Twitter]

Clinton Campaign: This Is “Over-Classification Run Amok.” The Clinton presidential campaign responded to the news by stating that they “firmly oppose the complete blocking of the release of these emails,” calling their withholding the result of “over-classification run amok.” [Clinton campaign statement, 1/29/16, via Twitter]

Schindler Cites Anonymous “Intelligence Community Officials” To Claim Clinton Emails Contain “Colossally Damaging” Information

Schindler: Anonymous Sources Claim Emails Contain “Holy Grail Items Of American Espionage.” In his February 1 Observer column, Schindler claims that “Discussions with Intelligence Community officials have revealed” that “what was actually in those Top Secret emails found on Hillary's 'unclassified' personal bathroom server was colossally damaging to our national security and has put lives at risk,” including “the true names of Central Intelligence Agency intelligence officers serving overseas under cover.” From the column:

Today FoxNews has reported that those twenty-two Top Secret emails included “operational intelligence” that involves espionage sources and methods, adding that lives have been put at risk by Hillary's mishandling of this information.

I can confirm that the FoxNews report, which lacks any specifics about exactly what was compromised, is accurate. And what was actually in those Top Secret emails found on Hillary's “unclassified” personal bathroom server was colossally damaging to our national security and has put lives at risk.

Discussions with Intelligence Community officials have revealed that Ms. Clinton's “unclassified” emails included Holy Grail items of American espionage such as the true names of Central Intelligence Agency intelligence officers serving overseas under cover. Worse, some of those exposed are serving under non-official cover. NOCs (see this for an explanation of their important role in espionage) are the pointy end of the CIA spear and they are always at risk of exposure - which is what Ms. Clinton's emails have done.

Not only have these spies had their lives put in serious risk by this, it's a clear violation of Federal law. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, enacted due to the murder of the CIA's station chief in Athens after his cover was blown by the left-wing media, makes it a Federal crime to divulge the true identity of any covert operative serving U.S. intelligence if that person has not previous been publicly acknowledged to be working for our spy agencies. [Observer, 2/1/16]

Schindler's Bio Identifies Him As A Security Expert And Former Naval War College Professor. Schindler's Observer bio reads: “John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he's also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He's published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee.” [Observer.com, accessed 2/3/16]

“Explosive, If True”: Right-Wing Media Run With Schindler's Story

New York Post Picks Up Schindler Report. [New York Post 2/1/16]

Townhall: Schindler's Story “Truly Explosive, If True... If This Can Be Independently Confirmed, It's About As Serious As It Gets.” [Townhall.com, 2/1/16]

The Federalist: Story “Confirms That It Was In Fact Information That Would Put The Lives Of American Intelligence Agents At Risk.” [The Federalist, 2/1/16]

Breitbart News: Story Is “The Very Opposite Of Taking National Security Seriously.” [Breitbart.com, 2/1/16]

Powerline: Part Of “Mind-Boggling Saga Of Hillary Clinton's Use Of  An Unsecured Private Email Server.” [Powerline, 2/1/16]

NBC News Rebuts Story: Officials Say No Email Reveals Identity Of Undercover Operative

NBC News: “Contrary To” Schindler's Report, Three U.S. Officials Who Reviewed Emails Say No Email “Directly Revealed The Identity Of An Undercover Intelligence Operative.” NBC News reported that “contrary to” Schindler's reporting, the emails in question do not “directly reveal” the identity of any undercover intelligence operative, but rather include “veiled references” that were later retroactively classified, according to three “U.S. officials who have reviewed them.” Clinton herself reportedly “made no comment” in response to any of those emails, one of which reportedly originated with the CIA. From the February 4 article:

A handful of emails forwarded to Hillary Clinton's personal server while she was secretary of state contained references to undercover CIA officers -- including one who was killed by a suicide attack in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed them.

But contrary to some published reports, three officials said there was no email on Clinton's server that directly revealed the identity of an undercover intelligence operative. Rather, they said, State Department and other officials attempted to make veiled references to intelligence officers in the emails -- references that were deemed classified when the messages were being reviewed years later for public release.

In one case, an official said, an undercover CIA officer was referred to as a State Department official with the word “State,” in quotes, as if to suggest the emailer knew the officer was not actually a diplomat. In another case, an email refers to “OGA” for “other government agency,” a common reference to the CIA. Yet another now-classified email chain originated with a member of the CIA director's staff, leading some officials to question how Clinton could be blamed.


The 2012 email wasn't the only one referencing a CIA officer or program, officials said. The references were indirect, and Clinton made no comment about them, the officials said. [NBCNews.com, 2/4/16]

Former Senior CIA Official: “Any Suggestion That This Email Contained Confirmation About The Person Or His Cover, Or Any Inappropriate Information, Is Flat Wrong.”   According to NBC News' sources, one of the emails in question alludes to the killing of a CIA officer, whose “association” with the agency was “widely reported in the news media” four days after his death. That email originated with the then-chief of staff to the Defense Department, was forwarded to senior State Department and Pentagon aides, and was then forwarded to Clinton. “There is no record of Clinton commenting,” according to the article. According to the former DOD chief of staff, Jeremy Bash, who went on to serve as chief of staff to the director of the CIA, the “email was not classified when it was sent or forwarded, and 'did not reference the individual's name, employer, nor any identifying description or information.'” From the February 4 article:

The email message about the dead officer was created by a Defense Department official, Jeremy Bash, who at the time was chief of staff to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. It concerned Dario Lorenzetti, a Fort Worth native -- later revealed to be a CIA officer -- who died Oct. 13, 2012, when an Afghan intelligence operative detonated a suicide vest in a so-called “Green on Blue” attack. The email was sent on the day of the attack after Lorenzetti's death was confirmed.

Lorenzetti's association with the CIA was leaked by anonymous officials to reporters four days after his death and widely reported in the news media, though his CIA cover was not lifted until later. Some of his obituaries listed him as a State Department officer.


Bash, who was Panetta's chief of staff while Panetta was CIA director, sent the email to four people -- including George Little, a Pentagon spokesman who was a former CIA spokesman, and Philippe Reines, an aide to Secretary of State Clinton.

Bash ends the email by instructing Little, the former CIA spokesman, to “please lash up with (blank)” -- presumably either the spy agency or one of its employees.

Reines forwarded the email to Clinton State Dept. aides Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan, who forwarded it to Clinton. There is no record of Clinton commenting.

Bash, in an interview, said the email was not classified when it was sent or forwarded, and “did not reference the individual's name, employer, nor any identifying description or information.”

Once the CIA posthumously lifted Lorenzetti's cover, Bash added, “the original unclassified email could be read to confirm the general use of cover, prompting the redactions we now see. But any suggestion that this email contained confirmation about the person or his cover, or any inappropriate information, is flat wrong.” [NBCNews.com, 2/4/16]

NBC News: Emails Are Part Of A “Longstanding Pattern” Of Officials Trying To “Talk Around Classified Information Over Email” That Dates To The Bush Administration. According to NBC News, such disclosures are part of a “longstanding pattern of senior officials at the State Department and other government agencies trying to talk around classified information over email” that stretches back to the Bush administration. From the February 4 article:

The messages at issue are part of a longstanding pattern of senior officials at the State Department and other government agencies trying to talk around classified information over email, sometimes unsuccessfully.


As the Associated Press has reported, State Department emails previously made public show a history of classified information slipping into unclassified email. Examples have been posted on the State Department's website in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. Although the classified information has been redacted, it is possible to glean insights into the sensitivity from the context.


In five emails from state.gov email accounts that date to Condoleezza Rice's tenure as secretary of state during the Bush administration and have been publicly released after FOIA requests, large chunks are censored on the grounds that they contain classified national security or foreign government information. [NBCNews.com, 2/4/16]

Schindler Resigned From Naval War College Following Erratic Behavior

Schindler Was Placed On Administrative Leave And Then Resigned Following Twitter Scandal. Schindler resigned from his job as a professor at the Naval War College in August 2014 after the College investigated a “picture of Schindler's penis” that had been posted on Twitter. From The Huffington Post:

A frequent Edward Snowden critic and former National Security Agency analyst who was involved in an investigation over “inappropriate” content shared on Twitter is leaving his job at the Naval War College, he announced on Monday.

“Sorry to say I'm severing my affiliation with Naval War College,” John Schindler wrote on Twitter. “I had a great time there but it's time to move on. Thanks for your support.”

A picture of Schindler's penis was posted to Twitter in June by a woman who described it as part of a consensual exchange, but one that eventually turned sour.

Naval War College spokesperson Cmdr. Kelly Brannon told the Associated Press that Schindler's departure came after an investigation of the risque photos was concluded at the end of July. She told the news service that Schindler resigned voluntarily after being informed of possible outcomes of the investigation. [Huffington Post, 8/12/14]