Friday, February 5, 2016

State Department Emails and the Secret State

News is just out that the use of personal email accounts in the State Department goes back at least to the tenure of Colin Powell, and that he also dealt with "classified" material in emails from his private account. It would not surprise me at all if it went back to whichever Secretary of State sent the first email from his office.

All of these high-level State Department types say they use private email because they don't trust the reliability or security of the government email system. They especially don't trust its internal security, that is, they suspect that far too many people within the State Department can read their stuff. Secretaries of State are also often major political players who deal with all sorts of partisan political subjects, for which they are supposed to use private accounts. For such people the line between official business and party business is often hard to draw. I suspect also that since several previous Secretaries used private email accounts, each new Secretary sets up such an account as a matter of prestige; damned if they won't have every perk their predecessors had.

The real problem here is not the use of private email accounts by State Department officials, it is the government's ridiculous habit of classifying all sorts of public business as "secret." For obvious reason we don't know what is in most of the emails that deal with "classified" material, but we do know in one case. This concerns emails Clinton and some associates exchanged about American drone strikes in Pakistan. Officially, it is a secret that we even have drones in Pakistan, even though the news media report on them all the time. In this case the email exchange started because one of the parties sent along a news account of such a drone strike. Even though the subsequent exchange was all about a media report, the government thinks that since it deals with the "secret" topic of drones in Pakistan, it is ipso facto classified.

Sometimes just thinking about all the crap our government tries to keep secret makes me want to vote for Bernie Sanders.


Shadow said...

Let's be clear about the difference between what Clinton and her predecessors did. Clinton is the only one who never had a State Department email account, choosing instead to set up her own server outside State's firewalls. And as far as I can tell she never informed anyone at state of her server's existence or its purpose -- not her IT department, not her cyber-security section.

Here's my understanding of what all this means.

This forced everyone who needed to contact her by email to by-pass State firewalls, servers, etc. In short, there was never at any time an entirely internal email conversation between her and anyone else at State. This would/should include contractors, outside advisors, etc., as they should have State email accounts too. Every email in every conversation would either have to originate outside State's firewall and servers or end up outside State's firewalls and servers, and all because Hillary did not have a State account. Yes, the same would happen any time a personal account is used -- not wise and should not be done except in special circumstances -- but by not having an official account, everyone is forced to send everything to a personal account.

And because this was her private server (which State knew nothing about) maintenance was performed by one or more outside IT businesses rather than by State IT. This begs these questions: Did those outside IT businesses' employees undergo background checks prior to accessing her server or emails? Did they sign non-disclosure agreements before accessing her server or emails? Did State cyber-security perform on-site security reviews? And if so were weaknesses corrected?

Another question that needs asking and answering: Did she use a State Department assigned laptop or her own? I don't even want to think about the latter.

That's my understanding. If anyone knows differently, please speak up.

John said...

It is simply not possible that the State Department's security and IT people did not know about the Secretary's email habits.

John said...

Vox has a very detailed explainer here:

I find all of this utterly uninteresting. Why is so much more attention being paid to her emails than her policies? If I searched for an explainer of her role in, say, the Libya intervention, or the negotiations with Iran, would I find one? I understand that people focus on these things because they regard her as fundamentally untrustworthy, but I just don't see the relevance.