WASHINGTON, June 9 (Reuters) - Emails between U.S. diplomats in Islamabad and State Department officials in Washington about whether to challenge specific U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are at the center of a criminal probe involving Hillary Clinton's handling of classified information, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
The 2011 and 2012 emails were sent via the "low side" - government slang for a computer system for unclassified matters - as part of a secret arrangement that gave the State Department more of a voice in whether a CIA drone strike went ahead, according to congressional and law enforcement officials briefed on the FBI probe, the Journal said.
Some of the emails were then forwarded by Clinton's aides to her personal email account, which routed them to a server she kept at her home in suburban New York when she was secretary of state, the officials said, according to the newspaper.
Clinton on the campaign trail:
Investigators have raised concerns that Clinton's personal server was less secure than State Department systems, and a recent report by the State Department inspector general found that Clinton had broken government rules by using a private email server without approval, undermining Clinton's earlier defenses of her emails.
The still-secret emails are a key part of the FBI investigation that has long dogged Clinton's presidential campaign, the officials told the Journal.
Clinton this week clinched the Democratic presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election and was endorsed by President Barack Obama on Thursday.
The White House rebuffed questions by reporters on Thursday on whether Obama's endorsement might be seen as unduly influencing a criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department involving Clinton.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that Obama "has reiterated his commitment to this principle that any criminal investigation should be conducted independent of any sort of political interference."
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The emails, which did not mention the "CIA," "drones" or details about the militant targets, were written within the often-narrow time frame in which State Department officials had to decide whether or not to object to drone strikes before the CIA pulled the trigger, the officials said, according to the Journal.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials said State Department deliberations about the covert CIA drone program should have been conducted over a more secure government computer system designed to handle classified information, the Journal reported.
(Writing by Eric Beech; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)