Hillary Clinton’s ‘Bleak Week’: Emails Show Response to WikiLeaks Revelations

VIce | 2 Sept 2015

It was a “bleak week.”

That’s how US State Department director of policy planning Anne-Marie Slaughter described it in a November 2010 email to Hillary Clinton, one day after WikiLeaks caused an international diplomatic crisis when it released more than 250,000 classified cables from US foreign embassies around the world.

Clinton, who was serving as US secretary of state at the time, was implicated in the WikiLeaks revelations of signing off on a secret intelligence campaign targeting United Nations officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The campaign called for the collection of UN officials’ biometric information, as well as their credit card details, email addresses, phone numbers, and frequent flyer-account numbers.

Slaughter’s email, however, was intended to deliver a bit of good news; Hillary Clinton, along with former US president Bill Clinton, had been listed 13th on Foreign Policy‘s list of the “top global thinkers.”

The message is part of the latest cache of more than 7,000 pages of Clinton’s emails released Monday night by the State Department, the third batch of her emails made public in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by VICE News. A federal judge ordered the State Department earlier this year to release 15 percent of a total of 35,000 emails every month.

The emails show that Clinton and her advisers worked to do damage control in the lead-up to and aftermath of the WikiLeaks revelations. Days before WikiLeaks released the cables on November 28, 2010, Scott Shane, a national security reporter for the New York Times, wrote to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, saying he doubted “[WikiLeaks] is going to dump 250k cables on the web anytime soon.”

Crowley forwarded the email to others at State. “Potentially great news,” he wrote.

Still, on November 23, Slaughter wrote to Clinton to let her know that she had “activated my four legal eagles” to look into a response to the fact that WikiLeaks had the cables that wouldn’t “impact our own internet freedom agenda.”

Penn suggested that the administration offer ‘a bounty for the capture of those responsible.’ Clinton shared the email with her chief of staff.

Judith McHale, then undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, wrote to Clinton on November 27, the day before the cables were released, saying that she had been “monitoring the Wikipedia [sic] situation” in an effort to be as “prepared as we can.” McHale also underscored the importance of ensuring “good relations in all sectors” to “help us weather inevitable storms.”

“At this point”, McHale wrote, “it looks like we have a hurricane on the horizon.”

She was right. The night the cables were released, Mark Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster during her 2008 presidential campaign, wrote to Clinton.

“The [Obama] administration’s response seems quite weak to me,” he wrote. “No State department can operate if it can’t keep its own classified cables and internal orders confidential – I think this is unprecedented in history. And if this is [what] wikileaks can get, what can the Chinese or [others]… secure?”

Penn suggested that the administration offer “a bounty for the capture of those responsible.” Clinton shared the email with her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills.

“Agree,” Mills wrote.

The following morning Mills forwarded Clinton an email with several headlines about the cables, including “Leaks could deal a fatal blow to global trust,” “WikiLeaks placed a bomb under US-UN relations,” and “US red-faced as cablegate sparks global diplomatic crisis.”

Sidney Blumenthal, Clinton’s longtime friend and advisor, sent a glass-half-full message.

“The WikiLeaks documents can be cast as reflecting a positive light on the US government and diplomacy,” Blumenthal wrote, saying that the emails were proof that American diplomats worked tirelessly and diligently “on the frontlines of national security.”

Though the leaks were a significant blow to Clinton and US diplomatic relations, the storm appeared to be waning within a week. On December 2, Mills forwarded Clinton an email with the subject line “Special International Media Report on WikiLeaks.”

“Media coverage in many countries of WikiLeaks releases is decreasing,” the email read. “Governments and many commentators assert US relationships will not be significantly damages [sic], and there are frequent observations that the releases have not revealed ‘anything new.’ Anti-US writers and media continue to use the opportunity to skewer the United States.”

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