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Richard Klass Headshot

Hillary's Experience - It's Not Secret

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It's three in the morning. America's children are sleeping soundly. A phone rings in the president's bedroom. The situation room reports a crisis. The president begins to ask questions but suddenly pauses and says "Dear, I have to leave the room, you are not cleared to hear this."

It's three in the afternoon. America's children are in school. A team from the CIA and the State Department are preparing to brief the First Lady before her upcoming overseas trip. State asks CIA if they can tell the First Lady about a new medical condition of the head of state of the country to which she is traveling. He responds "no, she does not have the required clearances."

Senator Clinton has based her claim to be a stronger nominee than Senator Barack Obama on he "thirty-five years of experience" and blithely conflates that to her national security experience. The facts tell a different story. Before she was elected to the Senate, she had no direct experience dealing with any national security issues because she had no security clearances. She did not have a secret or top secret clearance. She certainly did not have access to higher compartmentalized programs. She could not read the president's Daily Brief or sit in on a meeting in the Cabinet or situation room where classified topics were discussed. In short, during her eight years as First Lady she had no serious national security role or exposure to critical national security issues beyond what she learned from the media. Perhaps one of the reasons that the Clintons have been reluctant to release the documents showing Mrs. Clinton's role in her husband's administrations is that they would show that she played no substantive national security role in those administrations.

Senator Clinton's thirty-five years of experience is, in fact, not national security experience. Only during her last seven years in the Senate has she had a security clearance as a member of the Armed Services Committee and even here she does not have access to the most sensitive intelligence. Nor does she seem to show a curiosity to dig into the details of intelligence analysis as was shown when she did not read the critical national intelligence estimate (NIE) on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in the fall of 2002. She delegated that task to her staff that then gave her an overview, a summary on which she based her vote to authorize President Bush to use force in Iraq. Other Senate Democrats read the report, footnotes and all, and voted against the authorization. Had Senator Clinton had the experience she claims, she might have done the same.

There is no doubt that as First Lady Mrs. Clinton traveled the world and met many foreign leaders. But most of the leaders of our major allies and neighbors have changed from that time -- France, Germany, Japan, China, Mexico, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom to name a few. And however pleasantly social her visits may have been, she was not equipped with the classified information to engage in substantive security discussions.

Senator Clinton has recently touted her "lifetime of experience: rather than just thirty-five years as able to match the lifetime of experience of Sen. John McCain. (Doesn't everyone have a lifetime of experience?) If she gets the nomination and tries to run on her national security experience as compared to Senator McCain, her representations will be shown to be hollow and the person answering the phone in 2009 will be Senator McCain.