Hillary Clinton is learning the meaning of the saying “What goes around comes around.”
When Edward Snowden disclosed what he had hacked from classified government documents two years ago, she was quick to pounce on him, saying that he had aided terrorists and endangered national security.
This has been standard procedure every time some classified material gets published. Never mind proof — just make the charge.
Now, it is Hillary’s turn. She is to appear before a congressional committee which wants to know about the emails she had on her private computer. Of course, some Republicans are already claiming there are classified documents and that she has endangered national security. No need for a hearing — we know.
It may turn out that by mistake she did send something that was classified. Or something she sent was not classified after she sent it.
Nonetheless, I reject the idea that either Snowden or Hillary endangered national security. The classification system is not about national security — it is about political convenience.
The chief of naval security made that clear in testimony to a congressional committee at the time of the Pentagon Papers controversy in 1971.
He was asked how many of the classified documents actually dealt with military secrets or national security. He said one half of one percent.
In the Pentagon Papers decision, the Supreme Court confirmed that. Eight of the nine justices found no threat to national security in that lengthy report.
The chief of national security was asked how many classified documents there were. He said 20 million in 25 years. How did he know that? They were not numbered. He did not count them. It was an educated guess, but like many guesses once it was in the media, it became a fact.
I have seen a number of estimates over the years of how many classified documents there are and some are direct projections from that 1971 estimate.
However, some people believe that 9/11 led to an acceleration in classifying and that we have more than 100 million classified documents. That may be a good thing because finding something useful in 100 million documents is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
How did we get so many classified documents? Often the impression is created that it must be the president and the secretaries of defense and state. Actually, more than 10,000 government employees have the authority to classify documents. They know they can get in trouble if they don’t classify something that should be classified and won’t get in trouble if they classify something that should not be classified.
Snowden demonstrated the system is broken. So have the Chinese. They know things about you and me that we can’t find out.
The government’s response has been to criticize Snowden and the Chinese and now perhaps Hillary. Of course, it is easier to criticize than to fix a problem.
Guido H. Stempel III is a distinguished professor emeritus of journalism at Ohio University. Professor Stempel has a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Wisconsin and a master's in journalism from Indiana University. He has been on the Ohio University faculty since 1965 and served as director and graduate chairman of the journalism school, director of the Bush Research Endowment, and director of the Scripps Survey Research Center. He is a columnist for The Athens Messenger and The Highland County Press.