Extremely careless

There is evidence that Secretary Clinton and her colleagues “were extremely careless in their handling of verclintonemailsy sensitive, highly classified information”. So said FBI Director, James Comey. But what, exactly, does “extremely careless” mean?

Etymologically and literally it means that they cared less than they should have about national security. This included the identities of confidential informants aiding the United States in hostile countries, where they might be subject to torture and death. But in common parlance “careless” means doing something with insufficient thought or while not paying enough attention. Driving carelessly does not mean that you do not care whether you or other road users are killed. It means being distracted. Occasionally, driving carelessly might indicate a fully thought through decision to do something dangerous. It might mean deciding to driver faster than the speed limit knowing that this is illegal and dangerous, but placing a very high priority on getting to a destination quickly.

What did Comey mean when he said that Clinton was “extremely careless”? One reason for his choice of words is that near synonyms such as “negligent” or “reckless” carry legal implications which he was seeking to avoid. He was announcing, after all, that he was not recommending prosecution.

But does it make sense to think that Clinton was being “careless” in the normal sense of the word? Did she simply not think about the security implications of using a private server? For all her attempts to present herself as technological buffoon – she once claimed that her server was secure because the Secret Service was guarding it – this has little credibility. She must have known that hackers would access her server remotely, not by entering her premises and planting bugs on it.

Even if the Secretary of State herself was just a naïve old grandma who knows nothing of this new-fangled technology she would have had staff and advisers to check her on this. Her behavior on the campaign trail suggests she does not tolerate being second guessed by advisers, but this was not her campaign. This was government. We should hope that the Secret Service and the NSA are not so easily intimidated, and they don’t work for the Secretary of State.

It is reasonable to assume that she knew perfectly well that there were security implications for her decision, and that others told her this quite forcefully. If that’s so, then she made a fully informed decision to put national security in jeopardy. It is not that she was not paying attention to the risks; it is that she considered the risks and went ahead anyway.

If we take her at her word, then she decided that national security was less important than her personal convenience. She wanted to have a single email address for personal and work use and keep her personal emails off government servers, where they would be subject to official policies on transparency and freedom of information. The lives of American agents were less important than keeping her yoga schedule from the media.

But it is probably worse than that. It is not personal trivia she was seeking to hide, but official business.


Quentin Langley lives in New York and London and teaches at the University of Bedfordshire Business School. He is the author of Brandjack: How your reputation is at risk from brand pirates and what to do about it


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