Podesta Cautioned Clinton Against Discussing Sensitive Libya Intel Over Email

Leaked emails: Information on Tripoli air strikes 'not for this channel'

Hillary Clinton
November 4, 2016

John Podesta cautioned Hillary Clinton against discussing sensitive information about attacks in Libya over private email, newly leaked emails show.

Podesta, who at the time was serving as a senior adviser in President Obama's White House, told Clinton over email in 2014 that intelligence about recent attacks in Tripoli, Libya, was "not for this channel" when she asked for more information about the assault.

The revelation came in an Aug. 19, 2014, email chain between Clinton, using her personal email account, and Podesta that was released by WikiLeaks on Thursday. The exchange could provide fuel for critics who allege that Clinton exhibited poor judgement and put national security secrets at risk by using an unsecured email system.

Clinton, who had left the State Department the previous year, asked Podesta for information about air strikes on locations in Tripoli, Libya, controlled by Islamist militias the previous day.

"Any idea whose fighters attacked Islamist positions in Tripoli, Libya?" Clinton wrote. "Worth analyzing for future purposes."

"Yes and interesting but not for this channel," Podesta responded, seemingly willing to discuss sensitive information about the air strikes with Clinton, though not over email.

Reporting at the time indicated that the strikes were carried out by unidentified warplanes likely belonging to foreign powers. The United States, France, Italy, and Egypt denied involvement in the assaults, according to the New York Times.

Not until a week after the email exchange between Clinton and Podesta did the Associated Press, citing U.S. officials, report that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates carried out the strikes.

Clinton started the August 2014 exchange, parts of which had already been leaked, by enumerating a series of observations to Podesta about the Islamic State's operations in Iraq and Syria and options for the U.S. government to degrade the terror group in the region, citing "sources includ[ing] Western intelligence, U.S. intelligence and sources in the region."

The email made the case for U.S. special operators in Iraq to serve as advisers to local forces, particularly the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi army forces, and warned that without a successful military strategy against ISIS in the region, the terror group could spread. It also made the case for arming the Kurds with artillery and armored vehicles and providing them with close air support, in addition to executing a plan to arm Free Syrian Army forces fighting ISIS and the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.

"I think we are headed down this path in Iraq, but the Syria elements are … vexing," Podesta replied.

"Agree but there may be opportunities as the Iraqi piece improves," Clinton wrote, before asking for information about the forces behind the Tripoli strikes. 

Podesta left his White House post in February 2015 to prepare for his role as chairman of Clinton's presidential campaign. The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Clinton served as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, during which time she exclusively used private email to conduct official government business. The FBI conducted a months-long investigation into Clinton's private email after messages were found by intelligence community assets to contain highly classified information.

While FBI director James Comey said in July that he would not recommend charges be brought against Clinton or her aides despite them being "extremely careless" in their handling of classified information, the bureau has since begun revisiting the probe after discovering new emails pertinent to the case.

More than 100 messages on Clinton's server were found to have contained classified information at the time they were sent or received. The FBI also deemed it likely that hostile actors gained access to Clinton's private email.

 Other email exchanges leaked by WikiLeaks have showed Clinton's aides grappling with the email controversy after the New York Times broke the news in March 2015 that the former secretary of state used a private system for official communications.

Senior U.S. government officials have said that the Russian government is behind the hacking and leaking of emails to Wikileaks and other outlets, as part of an attempt to influence the 2016 election.