Decision day arrived today for Hillary Clinton, and she is surely breathing a huge sigh of relief.

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), James Comey, announced in a public statement on July 5th that the FBI would not recommend criminal charges against the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for her mishandling of classified information on a private email server.

According to the New York Times, Director Comey stated that “our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” because the FBI could not find evidence that Mrs. Clinton intentionally sent or received classified information.  That is the threshold that was needed to warrant a criminal charge.

What Mr. Comey did say, however, is that Mrs. Clinton was “extremely careless” in using personal email servers — and email addresses — to handle sensitive information.  He went on to state that an ordinary government employee would have faced administrative punishment for such an action, and that Mrs. Clinton “should have known that an unclassified system was no place” for sensitive conversations about intelligence matters.

Specifically, Comey stated that from the group of 30,000 State Department-provided emails examined, “110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received.”  The “owning agencies” mentioned would be the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and others.

Additionally, “seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received.”  Special Access Programs (SAPs) are the nation’s highest-classified intelligence programs and information streams, access to which is usually limited to hundreds, and sometimes tens, of people within the U.S. government.

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Comey went on to say that the “security culture” at the State Department was “generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government,” and noted that it was entirely possible that “hostile actors” may have gained access to Mrs. Clinton’s personal email accounts.  He did not elaborate on which actors those might be, but China and Russia are probably the actors to which he referred.

This is all pretty damning stuff, despite the fact that Mrs. Clinton’s behavior did not rise to the level of criminal conduct.  At a minimum, Mrs. Clinton and the State Department showed a careless disregard for the handling of classified information.  This should give all those involved in intelligence operations significant pause when they consider writing their intelligence reports.

Writing for source protection is one of the key elements of tradecraft that all intelligence officers learn when they go through their initial training.  This entire episode — Mrs. Clinton’s private email use to discuss sensitive intelligence — should more than aptly illustrate why such tradecraft training is so important.  Intelligence officers should always assume that what they put in an intelligence report might see the light of day — no matter what classification handling procedures are applied.

Take note, intel officers: write with care and always remember that no one else cares about protecting your source more than you do.  Proceed with caution.

The full transcript of Director Comey’s remarks can be found here.

(AP File Photo)