News outlets are reporting that the State Department is withholding 22 emails that were transmitted through and stored on Hillary Clinton’s private server because the Intelligence Community has determined that releasing any part of them – i.e., even redacted versions—could be gravely damaging to national security.
Fox News’s Catherine Herridge and Pamela Brown report that the emails in question include intelligence from “special access programs” (SAP), among the most closely guarded information in the intelligence community—the kind of information whose exposure can destroy vital intelligence collection programs and reveal the identities of intel operatives, potentially putting them in grave danger.
To get a sense of the level of sensitivity we are talking about here, recall that the State Department has already released, in redacted form, some 1340 Clinton emails containing classified information. With those, it was concluded that any risk could be eliminated by redacting the sensitive information (whether the substance of the intelligence or the methods and sources by which it was obtained). With the 22 at issue, by contrast, the intelligence is deemed to be of such magnitude that no part of the emails could be disclosed.
The reasoning behind that conclusion is alarming. It is not just that the intelligence community (IC) understandably wishes to keep top secret national-defense information under wraps. Because of how recklessly Clinton and her top aides handled classified information, the IC must operate under the assumption that there are copies of these 22 emails floating around—whether in the possession of current or former government officials but unaccounted for or, worse, in the possession of, say, foreign governments that managed to hack into Clinton’s unsecured private system. If the State Department were to release publicly even redacted copies of the emails, those who may have complete copies will be able to figure out the SAP information and use that knowledge both to compromise government sources and programs, and in analyzing other U.S. government information to which they’ve gained access.
In other words, it is potentially catastrophic.
A version of this piece previously appeared on National Review Online.