Hillary Clinton aides' emails on Benghazi sparked intelligence concerns

Story highlights

  • Question about her private email server have dogged Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign
  • While she released some emails, others were wiped from a private email server
  • Clinton recently handed the server over to the Department of Justice and the FBI

Washington (CNN)An April 2011 email from an aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, publicly released three months ago helped spark intelligence community concerns about classified information on Clinton's private email server, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter.

The email forwarded by Clinton adviser Huma Abedin to Mrs. Clinton provided an update of the deteriorating security situation in eastern Libya and included information that was sensitive at the time about tentative plans for then-special envoy Chris Stevens to possibly evacuate. Stevens, who later became ambassador, was killed in the September 2012 terrorist attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi.
The Abedin email was released publicly this past May, among the first batch of emails released by the State Department. But it prompted concern from the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community because it contained military information still deemed classified, according to officials briefed on the matter. The State Department later declassified the email because the military information was outdated and no longer sensitive.
    Clinton's presidential campaign seized on a Fox News report Wednesday that identified the Abedin email and one other from November 2012 that discussed possible Benghazi arrests, saying it proved that the controversy over Clinton emails is overblown.
    Campaign officials believe that the emails, already public, will help show that the problem with her email is one of "overclassification" by U.S. intelligence agencies.
    In other words, according to the Clinton campaign, intelligence agencies are calling information classified that most observers would not consider worthy of that sensitive treatment.
    The emails identified in the Fox report, however, aren't among the four emails cited by the inspector general in asking for an FBI investigation in July.
    Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign's press secretary, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that the Fox report identifying the emails was "a watershed" moment. He said it "lifted the curtain" that explains why the inspector general flagged Clinton's emails for investigation.
    The email was originally written by Tim Davis, who was then a special assistant to Secretary Clinton, and sent on the State Department's unclassified email system.
    "Not only was it the case that the email was not marked classified, it was affirmatively marked as unclassified," Fallon said on the conference call.
    However, the Clinton interpretation doesn't account for the fact that the Abedin email did contain particularly sensitive information at the time it was sent. Plans to move the envoy and staff would not have been appropriate to be sent on unclassified email systems and particularly not to a non-government email server.
    The FBI began investigating the matter as early as May, according to U.S. officials familiar with the probe. Months later, in July, the inspector general notified members of Congress that it sent a referral to the Justice Department after identifying four emails on the Clinton server that possibly contained classified information. Those four emails haven't been released.
    The FBI is now examining the Clinton server. CNN reported last week that FBI officials are confident they will be able to retrieve information from the servers, even though they were wiped.