The news is full of stories and outrage at Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal. I don’t feel that anyone has remotely the right perspective on how this happened, and why it makes perfect sense in the current system. It epitomizes a system that is prone to complete breakdown because of the deep neglect of information systems both unclassified and classified within the federal system. We just don’t pay IT professionals enough to get good service. The issue also gets to the heart of the overall treatment of classified information by the United States that is completely out of control. The tendency to classify things is completely running amok far beyond anything that is in the actual best interests of society. Tocompound things, further it highlights the utter and complete disparity in how laws and rules do not apply to the rich and powerful. All of this explains what happened, and why; yet it doesn’t make what she did right or justified. Instead it points out why this sort of thing is both inevitable and much more widespread (i.e., John Deutch, Condoleezza Rich, Colin Powell, and what is surely a much longer list of violations of the same thing Clinton did).
Management cares about only one thing. Paperwork. They will forgive almost anything else – cost overruns, gross incompetence, criminal indictments – as long as the paperwork’s filled out properly. And in on time.
― Connie Willis
Last week I had to take some new training at work. It was utter torture. The DoE managed to find the worst person possible to train me, and managed to further drain them of all personality then treated him with sedatives. I already take a massive amount of training, most of which utterly and completely useless. The training is largely compliance based, and generically a waste of time. Still by the already appalling standards, the new training was horrible. It is the Hillary-induced E-mail classification training where I now have the authority to mark my classified E-mails as an “E-mail derivative classifier”. We are constantly taking reactive action via training that only undermines the viability and productivity of my workplace. Like most my training, this current training is completely useless, and only serves the “cover your ass” purpose that most training serves. Taken as a whole our environment is corrosive and undermines any and all motivation to give a single fuck about work.
Let’s get to the point of why Hillary was compelled to use a private e-mail system in the first place? Why classified information appeared in the place? Why people in positions of power feel they don’t have to follow rules?
Most people watching the news have little or no idea about the classified computing or e-mail systems. So let’s explain a few things about the classified systems people work on that will get to the point of why all of this is so fucking stupid. For starters the classified computing systems are absolutely awful to use. Anyone trying to get real work done on these systems is confronted with the utter horror they are to use. No one interested in productively doing work would tolerate them. In many government places the unclassified computing systems are only marginally better. The biggest reasons are lack of appropriately skilled IT professionals and lack of investment in infrastructure. Fundamentally we don’t pay the IT professionals enough to get first-rate service, and anyone who is good enough to get a better private sector job does. Moreover these professionals work on old hardware with software restrictions that serve outlandish and obscene security regulations that in many cases are actually counter-productive. So, if Hillary were interested in getting anything done she would be quite compelled to leave the federal network for greener, more productive pastures.
The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.
Where one might think that the government would give classified work the highest priority, the environment for working there is the worst. Keep in mind that it is worse than the already shitty and atrocious unclassified environment. The seeming purpose of everything is not my or anyone’s actual productivity, but rather the protection of information, or at least the appearance of protection. Our approach to everything is administrative compliance with directives. Actual performance on anything is completely secondary to the appearance of performance. The result of this pathetic approach to providing the taxpayer with benefit for money expended is a dysfunctional system that provides little in return. It is primed for mistakes and outright systematic failures. Nothing stresses the system more than a high-ranking person hell-bent on doing their job. The sort of people who ascend to high positions like Hillary Clinton find the sort of compliance demanded by the system awful (because it is), and have the power to ignore it.
Of course I’ve seen this abuse of power live and in the flesh. Take the former Los Alamos Lab Director, Admiral Pete Nanos who famously shut the Lab down an denounced the staff as “Butthead Cowboys!” He blurted out classified information in an unclassified meeting in front of hundreds if not thousands of people. If he had taken his training, and been compliant he should have known better. Instead of being issued a security infraction like any of the butthead cowboys in attendance would have gotten, he got a pass. The powers that be simply declassified the material and let him slide by. Why? Power comes with privileges. When you’re in a position of power you find the rules are different. This is a maxim repeated over and over in our World. Some of this looks like white privilege, or rich white privilege where you can get away with smoking pot, or raping unconscious girls with no penalty, or lightened penalties. If you’re not white or not rich you pay a much stiffer penalty including prison time.
I learned the lesson again at Los Alamos in another episode that will remain slightly vague in this post. I went to a meeting that honored a Lab scientist’s career. During the course of the meeting another Lab director read an account of this person’s work noting their monumental accomplishments and contributions to the national security. All of the account was good, true and correct except it was classified in its content. I took the written text to the classification office at the Lab and noted its issues. They agreed that it was indeed classified. Because the people who wrote the account (very high ranking DoE person) and the person who read it were so high ranking they would not touch this with the proverbial ten-foot pole. They knew a violation had occurred, but their experience also told them that it was foolish to pursue it. This pursuit would only hurt those who pointed out the problem and those committing the violations were immune.
Let me ask you, dear reader, how do you think someone would treat the Secretary of State of the United States. How much more untouchable would they be? It is certainly wrong in a perfect World, but we live in a very imperfect world.
A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The core philosophy in all of this is that we have lots of secrets to protect because we are the biggest and baddest country on Earth. It was certainly true at one time, but every day I wonder less and less if we still are and gain assurance that we are not. So we have created a system that is predicated on our lead in science and technology, but completely and utterly undermines our ability to keep that lead. We have a system that is completely devoted to undermining our productivity at every turn in the service of protecting information that loses its real value every day. To put it differently our current approach and policy is utter and complete fucking madness!
I also want to be clear that classification of a lot of material is absolutely necessary. It is essential to the safety and security of the Nation and the World. The cavalier and abusive way that classification is applied today runs utterly counter to this. By classifying everything in sight, we reduce the value and importance of the things that must be classified. By using classification of documents to cover everything with a blanket, the real need and purpose of classification is obscured and harmed deeply. All of this said I have not discussed the most widely abused version of classification, “Official Use Only,” which is applied in an almost entirely unregulated manner. It is abused widely and casually. Among the areas regulated by this awful policy is the Export Controlled Information, which is easily one of the worst laws I’ve ever come in contact with. It is just simply put stupid and incompetent. It probably does much more harm than good to the national security of the nation.
Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.
― John Steinbeck
Let’s be clear about the Country and World we live in. The rich and powerful are corrupt. The rich and powerful are governed by entirely different rules than everyone else. Mistakes, violations of the law, and morality itself for the rich and powerful are fundamentally different than the common man. So to be clear Hillary Clinton committed abuses of power. Donald Trump has committed abuses of power too. Barack Obama has as well. Either Hillary or Trump will continue to do so if elected President. Until the basic attitudes toward power and money change we should expect this to continue. The same set of abuses of power happen across the spectrum of society in every organization and business. The larger the organization or business, the worse the abuse of power can expect to be. As long as it is tolerated it can be expected to continue.
A man who has never gone to school may steal a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.
― Theodore Roosevelt
Our societal approach to classification of documents is simply a tool of this sort of rampant abuse of power. We see any sense of a viable “whistleblower” protection to be complete and utter bullshit. People who have highlighted huge systematic abuses of power involving murder and vast violation of constitutional law are thrown to the proverbial wolves. There is no protection, it is viewed as treason and these people are treated as harshly as possible (Snowden, Assange, and Manning come to mind). As I’ve noted above people in positions of authority can violate the law with utter impunity. At the same time classification is completely out of control. More and more is being classified with less and less control. Such classification often only serves to hide information and serve the needs of the status quo power structure.
In the end, Hillary had really good reasons to do what she did, and believe that she had the right to do so. Everything in the system is going to provide her with the evidence that the rules for everyone else do not apply to her. Hillary wasn’t correct, but we have created an incompetent, unproductive computing system that virtually compelled her to choose the path she took. We have created a culture where the most powerful people do not have to follow the rules that the regular guy rules. The system has been structured by fear and lack of trust without any regard for productivity. If we want to remain the most powerful country, we need to change our priorities on productivity, secrecy and the corruption of power.
The whole issue of runaway classification, classified e-mails and our inability to produce a productive work environment in National Security is at the nexus of incompetence, lack of trust, corruption resulting in a systematic devotion to societal mediocrity.
Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.
– Edward Snowden