The 22 “Top Secret” Email Messages

Hillary ClintonLike The 39 Steps or The Loyal 47 Ronin, The 22 “Top Secret” Email Messages has a mythic quality to it. As you may have heard if you are a normal person, and definitely heard if you are a Fox News or hate radio devotee, the government declared 22 Clinton email messages “top secret.” And so withheld them from release. Almost immediately, the Clinton campaign demanded that the email messages be released. Why would they do that? Most people are like Max Fisher at Vox who thinks that it is because the Clinton campaign wants the world to see that there is nothing top secret about them.

I disagree.

This is definitely the reason. Good God! I would be shocked if even 0.01% of classified documents deserve to be. When very old documents are finally declassified, they are almost always the most banal things. When they are sexy, it is because they embarrassed someone, not because they would have led to the fall of our empire. Creating “top secret” documents is a way for bureaucrats to feel like they are special. The fact that their jobs are usually pretty boring probably doesn’t help matters. Everyone likes to feel like they are an insider, and what better way than to mark banal nonsense as “top secret”?

One thing I remember very fondly from the 1990s was all of the work that the Clinton administration did declassifying documents. It was amazing and refreshing. I’ve always hated the over-classification of stuff. It’s anti-democratic. But the icing on the cake of what Clinton had done was that after George W Bush was appointed president, Dick Cheney began his own program of re-classifying what Clinton had declassified. It showed that there really are two kinds of people in the world: normal and authoritarian jerks. I mean, that’s such a Stalinist move! Sure, the information has been made public, but now I’m going to stop anyone from talking about it!

Paul Krugman wrote a really good blog post about his own experience with classified documents. Here is the heart of the matter which not only goes along with everything I know about classified documents but is also pretty funny:

I received a lot of classified reports from the CIA, the State Department, etc. They had all sorts of warnings in capital letters on their covers: SECRET NOFORN NOCONTRACT PROPIN ORCON, I think, was the standard litany. And there was a security person who came through our offices at night, scooped up any classified documents we left out, put them in a safe, and issued citations. Between the number of classified documents I received and my continuing true identity as an absent-minded professor, I got a lot of citations — second only to [Council of Economic Advisers Chairman] Marty [Feldstein].

But the reason I kept forgetting to lock the things up was that none of them — literally not one, during a whole year — contained anything actually sensitive. There was nothing in any of them you couldn’t have read in newspapers, or figured out for yourself given public information.

I’m not a good prognosticator, but I’ll tell you how I think this is going to go: no one who doesn’t already care will care. The truth is that the Clinton campaign is playing this exactly right. By immediately demanding the documents’ release, they are signaling that there is nothing to see. And the vast majority of people already know that our classification system, very much including “top secret,” is a joke.

There’s another aspect to it too. People might have their questions about Hillary Clinton. Is she too secretive? Is she a political opportunist? (As if all politicians aren’t both.) But no one thinks that she is incompetent or a traitor. What’s more, it is all so boring. But if it starts a discussion about how over-classified government documents have become, it will be a great thing.

I know one thing: Bernie Sanders won’t be using the “damn emails” as an issue.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

22 thoughts on “The 22 “Top Secret” Email Messages

  1. Whether or not one supports Bernie as a candidate — and there are valid reasons not to support him — he’s such a charming human being. He’s like the old, white, Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s so great. It’s impossible not to love the guy.

    Compare that to the GOP field. They’re all really slimy. Hillary, at her worst, seems a tad clinical, but it’s hard not to like her, too. Cruz, I hate the sound of his voice. I want to punch my TV if he comes on, and I have an expensive TV.

    • Yeah, there’s something about Cruz. The arrogance that emanates from him even while claiming to be just one of the folk.

      Hillary I find quite likable. She does the grandma thing well. And I’m sure by election day, they will have “humanized” her so that everyone with an open mind can get past the stereotype of the power crazed alpha woman. Sadly, I think the press will allow the Republicans to “humanize” Ted Cruz too, even though he clearly is a power crazed fascist.

      You should check out Michael on The Majority Report where he does “Badass Bernie.” It’s pretty funny. I think this was when he invented it (almost a year ago):

      • That was fun. It just struck me that if Trump is nominated, it’ll be battle of the New York neighborhoods. Manhattan versus either Westchester County or Brooklyn!

        • Oh! I hadn’t thought of that. Of course, I still think of Clinton as being from Arkansas, even though she was born in Illinois, she is definitely a New Yorker now. Of course, then technically, Bernie isn’t. Although he still sounds like it. But maybe they do in Vermont. As I recall, Vermont was formed by people in New Hampshire who were afraid that New York was encroaching on them.

  2. Krugman’s post does explain why he refused to go into the Obama Administration or would be why he wasn’t asked.

    Governments liked to be secretive sometimes but the Bush Administration took it the nth level. The Obama Administration’s secretive actions were more because they released too much information which takes forever to get through.

    • Krugman’s been very clear over the years that he just isn’t a government kind of guy. It doesn’t fit his personality. And he’s added (correctly) that the Obama administration knows what he thinks. They all read him. So he hardly needs to be an official adviser. Some people are saying that he’s been attacking Sanders because he wants a post in the Clinton administration. No. It’s only too clear that his life is as good as it could be. The only position he could be given that would raise his stature would be Fed chair, and he would touch that position with a ten foot pole. Clearly, people making that argument have not followed him closely.

      • I pictured Krugman smashing the Fed chair with a ten foot pole after your typo.

        And was greatly amused since he is about as calm as you in his actions based on what I have seen.

        • Yeah, he seems like a calm guy. I just started running some of my posts through a text reader for editing. It’s great! But time consuming. It only catches certain kinds of errors, but it’s helpful. I caught a number on the Iowa Caucus post.

  3. “But no one thinks that she is incompetent or a traitor.”

    “No one?” You’re joking, right? In the right-wing fever swamp, I think it’s mandatory to believe she’s at least one of those.

    • Yes. But I was speaking of the set of people who could imagine a situation where they might vote for her. There are still people who think she had Vince Foster murdered. Even before these 22 messages, Fox News was reporting on it at least once an hour. Even after the revelations, there’s been little coverage outside. People just don’t care.

  4. Depends on what you mean by ‘traitor’. As a democratic leftist who has seen all political alternatives swallowed whole by royalist centrists posing as leftists, I’m deeply inclined to doubt the loyalty of New Democrat types. Perhaps ‘traitor’ is too strong a word. Perhaps ‘deeply disloyal Judas Iscariot favouring the ruling class’, while less sexy, is more appropriate.

    Yes, the emails are obviously not an issue to thinking, open-minded people regardless of political preferences. It’s crazy that you and others need to make this elementary point. Surreal.

    • Although I do think that the New Democratic movement was very much an elitist takeover of the Democratic Party, I don’t see Hillary Clinton that way. The worst I can say about her is that she is a politician who has been worn down after years and years of compromise. I remember in the Clinton White house, she was always portrayed as the economic liberal firebrand. So I think she is, at heart, Bernie Sanders — or she was 25 years ago.

      • Just to be clear, I have little interest in condemning Clinton, or anyone else really, as an individual. No point. But what she is: a) more of the same, and b) not a crazy zealot, is really insufficient.

        I was kind of happy in 1992 because I thought at least boy Clinton would not personally profit from foreign wars. Bush Sr. (along with Brian Mulroney of Canada) seem not so bad in retrospect. But it’s long past the time for not-crazy as a qualification for high office.

        I’m tired of crumbling infrastructure (slower in Canada), privatization or marketization of public services (slower here), the endless hare-brained neo-liberal promises, the refusal to affirm the sovereignty of the people, the upside financial ‘industry’ lobby, and above all, the murder of Middle-Easters for the profit of defense (and defence) contractors. Girl Clinton isn’t even talking about these things in any direct way.

        Our Judas left promised massive infrastructure and carbon-free energy research projects and were even willing to cop to planning a deficit. They got elected; we’ll see. But is girl Clinton even promising that?

          • They’re fine. If they get really long, the system will cut them into multiple comments. Then you really know you’ve lost it.

            Also: paragraph breaks always help. In general, I don’t read long comments without paragraph breaks because I assume the person is crazy.

        • I understand. And I think Robert Reich (I think I wrote about this recently) is right in that Clinton is the right person to manage the current system and Sanders is the right person to manage a new system. We’ll have to see how it goes. I’m pessimistic, because there are too many Democrats who profit very nicely from the current system. I keep bringing up Corbyn. It frightens me.

  5. This is now the sixteenth, maybe seventeenth, pressing of these olives. They were a bitter disappointing harvest at the first pressing, and are now fit for little more than pounding into a mash that can grease the axles of the farmer’s cart.

    • Someone at Vox wrote an article about how they are meaningless because if you think Clinton did something terrible, you already thought that. If you don’t, these won’t change that. And most people are just in the middle not really knowing or caring about it.

      If only it could be turned into something as useful as axle grease!

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