'It’s Not Classified Because It’s Marked; It’s Marked Because It’s Classified'

hillary-clinton-shrug-300x225It appears now that Hillary Clinton’s main rhetorical defense against the increasing evidence that her private server contained classified information is that it wasn’t “marked classified.” A fair number of people have been repeating this as if it were somehow significant.

It’s not. Ron Fournier put it succinctly:

It’s actually easy to see why. John Schindler did a nice worked example that I’ve linked before, showing how a document is marked; I’d recommend it to anyone. But the reasoning behind it is simple: some information, if released, would cause significant damage. Let’s say I’m working in the State Department, and I’m concerned with Elbonia. There are a number of sources that CIA can be feeding me, and State has its own resources. So, I may have stuff crossing my desk that says:

  • The U.S. military attache was talking with his valet about the increasing number of Elbonians ordering military-style fur hats.
  • The ambassador had a meeting with the head of the opposition party who tells him that there is a new super-secret program taking lots of money away from his pet project.
  • The NSA is intercepting cell-phone calls from the prime minister of Elbonia to his minister of defense asking about progress on Project Guillaume Tell.
  • Satellite imagery shows construction of a long straight railroad track with a 1500-meter curved construction at one end and a great big pulley at the other.

The analysts at CIA, and the person on the Elbonia Desk at State, might reasonably conclude there is a massive intercontinental ballistic crossbow program going on in Elbonia.

I can promise you that each of these memos is marked, as anything from “sensitive but unclassified” to TOP SECRET Talent Keyhole NOFORN. Our military attache knows that if he fails to do it, he’ll end up with a job even less desirable than being military attache in Elbonia, as difficult as such a job might be to imagine. But how does the military attache know to mark it?