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How NOT To Handle Classified Information: Lessons From The FBI Probe On Hillary Clinton's Emails

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You are the chief diplomat of your country, with knowledge of where the next drone attacks against terrorist suspects are being planned. You rely heavily on correspondence containing classified information. Do you:

A) Choose a private email server and send messages on top secret operations from your own personal device?

B) Let your aides handle which documents oddly marked with the small letter "c" should reach your mailbox soonest? Wait, "c" means "classified," right?

C) Just ask the computer specialist running your server to handle deleting past emails and other important records in your archives? (Even after a House Committee requested these messages be retained.)

Answer: None of the above, of course.

The scenario is a situation many of us will most likely never encounter in this lifetime. But this is exactly the predicament that former U.S. Secretary of State — and now Democratic presidential nominee — Hillary Clinton found herself in the moment she became the nation's top diplomat.

The way information — classified or otherwise — has quickly changed hands via a server that was not authorized for use by the government has become her critics' strongest point against her bid for the White House.

FBI Probe On Clinton Emails

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released on Friday a redacted summary of its probe on the Clinton emails. The agency examined whether Clinton and her aides violated protocol in the way classified information had been handled, especially on a private server.

The 58-page report fills in details and provides further background to FBI Director James Comey's initial findings that Clinton had been "extremely careless" in her correspondence.

The FBI ended the probe in July, and the Justice Department heeded the bureau's recommendation of no longer pursuing criminal charges against Clinton. But the public can still glean a few lessons from the blunder:

'Be Very Careful,' Warned Colin Powell

After taking her oath of office in 2009, Clinton asked former Secretary of State Colin Powell about communicating official matters on a BlackBerry. One clear lesson Clinton could have taken to heart was Powell's advice to "be very careful."

After all, Powell explained, if her BlackBerry were to be used to "do business," her correspondence could "become 'official record[s] and subject to the law,'" the FBI summary states. Powell earlier clarified he never suggested she use a nonsecure messaging system.

Clinton admitted Powell's comments "did not factor into her decision to use a personal email account." She opted for a single private email "out of convenience."

'Oh S***': Never Trust Others To Delete Your Emails For You

The FBI report also sheds light on the supposed "oh s*** moment" of an unnamed computer specialist who forgot to reset Clinton's mailbox preferences. The settings should have retained messages for only up to 60 days, as requested by Clinton's office.

The specialist — who works for the Platte River Networks, the group running Clinton's private email server — said he only realized the mistake until after the New York Times ran the story on the use of the private server. The blunder shows how it might help for someone like Clinton, who is frequently exposed to sensitive information, to monitor the deletion and archiving of top secret messages herself.

The report indicates the worker deleted the Clinton email archives and used BleachBit to delete the exported .PST files.

The move to clean up the mailbox also came weeks after a House Committee, investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, handed down a preservation order for emails and documents pertaining to the attacks. Clinton and her staff, however, said they were unaware the archives had been deleted.

'C' Is For Classified

In her interview with the investigators, Clinton said she "could not recall every briefing she received" during her time as state secretary. This makes it difficult for her to point to specific instructions she may have received on how to manage and preserve classified documents. According to the summary, she was unaware that the small "c" marking on certain documents stood for "confidential" or "classified."

The findings are "a devastating indictment of her judgment, honesty and basic competency," says Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee Chairman.

With the facts uncovered in the Clinton email probe, such revelations are being leveraged by her opponents, just as the Nov. 8 presidential polls draw near.

The Clinton campaign team is pleased the findings are now out in the open.

"While her use of a single email account was clearly a mistake and she has taken responsibility for it, these materials make clear why the Justice Department believed there was no basis to move forward with this case," says Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Clinton.

Photo: Brett Weinstein | Flickr

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