F.B.I. Investigating Security Of Clinton’s Private Email Server

The F.B.I. seems to be looking in to just how secure. Hillary Clinton's private email server was while she was Secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton Blackberry

The Washington Post reports that the FBI is investigating the security issues related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State:

The FBI has begun looking into the security of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private e-mail setup, contacting in the past week a Denver-based technology firm that helped manage the unusual system, according to two government officials.

Also last week, the FBI contacted Clinton’s lawyer, David Ken­dall, with questions about the security of a thumb drive in his possession that contains copies of work e-mails Clinton sent during her time as secretary of state.

The FBI’s interest in Clinton’s e-mail system comes after the intelligence community’s inspector general referred the issue to the Justice Department in July. Intelligence officials expressed concern that some sensitive information was not in the government’s possession and could be “compromised.” The referral did not accuse Clinton of any wrongdoing, and the two officials said Tuesday that the FBI is not targeting her.

Kendall confirmed the contact, saying: “The government is seeking assurance about the storage of those materials. We are actively cooperating.”

A lawyer for the Denver company, Platte River Networks, declined to comment, as did multiple Justice Department officials.

The inquiries are bringing to light new information about Clinton’s use of the system and the lengths to which she went to install a private channel of communication outside government control — a setup that has emerged as a major issue in her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

For instance, the server installed in her Chappaqua, N.Y., home as she was preparing to take office as secretary of state was originally used by her first campaign for the presidency, in 2008, according to two people briefed on the setup. A staffer who was on the payroll of her political action committee set it up in her home, replacing a server that Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, had been using in the house.

The inquiries by the FBI follow concerns from government officials that potentially hundreds of e-mails that passed through Clinton’s private server contained classified or sensitive information. At this point, the probe is preliminary and is focused on ensuring the proper handling of classified material.

Of particular concern seems to be the manner in which the Clinton’s set up the server and the lack of concerns they seemed to show for the security of Mrs. Clinton’s communications while she was Secretary of State:

Responsibility for setting up and maintaining the server that handled personal e-mail communications for Bill and Hillary Clinton passed through a number of different hands, starting with Clinton staffers with limited training in computer security and eventually expanding to Platte River.

In 2008, responsibility for the system was held by Justin Cooper, a longtime aide to the former president who served as a personal assistant and helped research at least two of his books. Cooper had no security clearance and no particular expertise in safeguarding computers, according to three people briefed on the server setup. Cooper declined to comment.

“The system we used was set up for President Clinton’s office. And it had numerous safeguards. It was on property guarded by the Secret Service. And there were no security breaches,” Hillary Clinton said in March.

Those briefed on the server setup say the device installed for Bill Clinton was deemed too small for the addition of a sitting Cabinet official. Instead, a server that had been purchased for use by Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign was installed at the Chappaqua home.

With the new server came an additional specialist: Bryan Pagliano, who had worked as her campaign’s IT director. According to federal campaign finance records, Pagliano was paid by Clinton’s Senate leadership PAC through April 2009. The next month, he went to work for the State Department as an IT specialist, a department official said. The people briefed on the server indicated that he continued to act as the lead specialist responsible for it.

The e-mail system was not always reliable, these people said, with Pagliano summoned at various times to fix problems. Notably, the system crashed for days after New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

It’s important to note from the start that the fact that there is an FBI investigation does not mean that a crime was committed, and indeed doesn’t necessarily mean that the investigation that is being conducted is a criminal investigation per se. Instead, from the reports, it appears that at the moment at least the Bureau is investigating the security surrounding the server at the time that Clinton was Secretary of State and thereafter, most likely to determine if it was being maintained in a manner consistent with the security that should be expected for even  non-classified communications by the Secretary of State. Theoretically, of course, this is something that the State Department’s own IT department should have been on top of while Clinton was Secretary of State, but based on the information that has come out over the past several months about how Clinton conducted her electronic communications it seems rather apparent that this was not the case. Indeed, the fact that server was maintained by someone who had started out at a campaign worker on Clinton’s 2008 Presidential campaign makes it seem clear that he had divided loyalties and, at the very least, that the task should have been handed off to career employees who didn’t have any direct loyalty to the Clintons.

While this is a different issue from the referral that two Inspectors General made to the Justice Department last week regarding the handling of specific communications that were deemed classified, it is related to the overall issue of how Clinton conducted herself as Secretary of State. As I’ve said before, the idea of a sitting Secretary of State conducting official business through an email server that was not controlled by the government is something that just seems laughably absurd. Clinton’s initial defense for why she took this route, that she didn’t want to use two different mobile devices for private and official correspondence, was so laughable at the time she made it in March even some of her strongest supporters didn’t entirely buy it. From the beginning, it was clear that the primary motivation behind the decision was Clinton’s desire to have some control over her correspondence. To no small degree, of course, this was likely motivate by her experiences as First Lady and the multiple investigations that both she and her husband were subjected to that included the review of things as mundane as her billing records from when she worked as a private attorney. Those concerns pale, though, when compared to the rather obvious security risks inherent in anyone having access to the email communications of the Secretary of State and the people who work closest to her. Even if the information communicated isn’t classified, it could still contain information that should not be widely disseminated and which certainly shouldn’t be available to potentially hostile nations. While by no means perfect, government IT systems are designed to deal with these issues. We have no assurances that a private system set up for the personal benefit of the Secretary of State and maintained on her private property was similarly secure, and apparently neither does the FBI at this point. What Clinton’s motivation for handling her correspondence this way, though, and even disregarding the fact that what she did was legal, this kind of end run around official government computer systems is something that never should have been acceptable, and it ought to at least raise some questions about just how forthcoming with the truth Clinton will be should she be elected President. If the way she handed her email as President is any indication, I think its safe to say that transparency will not be the watchword.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. Hal_10000 says:

    So is this an actual investigation or is it going to be like the Times’ “criminal investigation” story of a few weeks ago that turned out to be complete BS?

    As I’ve said before, look into how material was handled. I don’t expect anything major to come of it, for various reasons but it’s something that should be looked into.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Of course we have learned that the government severs are not that secure either.

  3. Castanea says:

    No man of the flesh could ever stop me
    The fight for this fish is a fight to the death

    White whale, holy grail
    White whale, holy grail

    What remorseless emperor commands me
    I no longer govern my soul

    – The media and every right-wing blogger and congressman in unison

  4. James Pearce says:

    @Castanea: Split your lungs with blood and thunder.

  5. James Pearce says:

    What Clinton’s motivation for handling her correspondence this way, though, and even disregarding the fact that what she did was legal, this kind of end run around official government computer systems is something that never should have been acceptable, and it ought to at least raise some questions about just how forthcoming with the truth Clinton will be should she be elected President.

    We didn’t really need this e-mail server to have those questions…but the secret server certainly helps.

    One of the things I liked about Obama, despite his critics pointing it out as a negative, was his relative inexperience in Washington. His naivete was almost admirable, the beer summit and all that.

    I think for Clinton, the server is a product of her decades in Washington. She knows how to play the game, and the game must be played.

    That said, I’d be willing to live with a consummate game-player rather than a “take our country back” firebrand.

  6. elizajane says:

    The relentless investigations of Clinton have managed to convince a majority of Americans that she must be basically untrustworthy, so points to her opponents for making this strategy work.

    At the same time, ordinary people can’t name anything specific she has done that is actually disqualifying, tend to like her positions more than those of her opponents, and therefore they continue to back her and to shrug off the substance of all the accusations.

    It’s an interesting dynamic. Curious about how it turns out.

  7. If this was a lower level State Dept employee, they would be in big, big trouble for violations of policy and security law. Take the name “Clinton” out of the mix, and the person would most likely already be charged with violations of national security.

  8. Jack says:

    Apparently the media are running out of thesaurus reference words to obfuscate the illegality of using non-secure private data servers to conduct official State Department business and pass classified information. Don’t worry, they’ll soon come up with new Clinton deflector words.

  9. EddieInCA says:

    I have a question to the lawyers. Is anything I send from a work computer considered “work related”? I use my own laptop at work, with my own T-1 line. While working in Florida, I rarely used the company wi-fi, and instead used my own encrypted wi-fi network, that only I had access to.

    I’m thinking that if I worked for a normal company, this would be a problem. But, I have my reasons for using my own stuff.

    1. I don’t trust the networks.
    2. I don’t trust the companies.
    and…
    3. I don’t trust law enforcement.

    It’s also why I don’t use cloud storage, nor upload anything to dropbox or the like. Hell, I’m paranoid about simple emails.

  10. C. Clavin says:

    @William Teach:
    @Jack:
    I see the Clinton Derangement trolls are out in force.
    So emotional.

  11. Jack says:

    @C. Clavin: There is much more emotion in your 10 word statement than all of mine.

    Don’t you have a pig to make squeal?

  12. PJ says:

    So, after Doug complaining about Donald Trump’s substance free campaign, we get a new blog post about Clinton. Is it about any substance? No, as expected it’s one more post about a possible scandal.

    All poll numbers and possible scandals, but no substance.

  13. Davebo says:

    Should have went with Proton Mail! https://protonmail.ch

    Although the whole “based in Switzerland” may have been problematic….

  14. edmondo says:

    …it ought to at least raise some questions about just how forthcoming with the truth Clinton will be should she be elected President.

    That’s hilarious. The Clintons have been around for nearly 25 years. The ONLY time they’ve spoken the truth is when they ask for forgiveness after they’ve been caught in another lie. Diogenes doesn’t even have Chappaqua NY on his Google Map.

  15. george says:

    @William Teach:

    That is a fair point, if true. The key being, if true. What would happen if a lower level civil employee used a private server for government business? Is there a precedent?

    Suppose an aid working at an embassy used their private server instead of the embassy server for gov’t business. Would there be repercussions, or would it be a slap on the wrist?

  16. stonetools says:

    After Doug complains about the Republicans’ lack of policy, Doug posts on the Hillary Clinton. Is it about policy ? Why, of course not.

    As I’ve said before, the idea of a sitting Secretary of State conducting official business through an email server that was not controlled by the government is something that just seems laughably absurd.

    It wasn’t laughably absurd when Colin Powell used his private email to conduct official SoS business, but then he’s a Republican, so …

    Those concerns pale, though, when compared to the rather obvious security risks inherent in anyone having access to the email communications of the Secretary of State and the people who work closest to her. Even if the information communicated isn’t classified, it could still contain information that should not be widely disseminated and which certainly shouldn’t be available to potentially hostile nations.

    Again, Powell did all that stuff. Why no outrage there?

    While by no means perfect, government IT systems are designed to deal with these issues.

    Heh, a talent for understatement there. Government servers have been hacked several times, and vast amounts of genuinely sensitive information has been taken by hackers. So far as I know, no one has hacked Clinton’s server.

    What Clinton’s motivation for handling her correspondence this way, though, and even disregarding the fact that what she did was legal, this kind of end run around official government computer systems

    Glad you conceded it was legal , Doug in the last paragraph. As for “end run”, it’s not an end run if there was nothing-like a law, regulation or guidance- to evade. We get it, Doug-you don’t like the Clintons and you especially don’t like that they broke a non existent law that “should” have been there for them to violate. You need to get past this and actually discuss the policy preferences of the woman who may be next President. As to you not trusting her , well I don’t know if I trust people wearing Yankee caps…

  17. stonetools says:

    @William Teach:

    I would ask you to link to the law, regulation, or guidance that Clinton or any other State Department employee was supposed to have violated, but why bother? You are certain of your theories, and that’s enough for trolls like you.
    Funny that Colin Powell didn’t get in trouble for using his private email to conduct government business. Why was that, I wonder?

  18. Lenoxus says:

    @James Pearce:

    I think for Clinton, the server is a product of her decades in Washington. She knows how to play the game, and the game must be played.

    That said, I’d be willing to live with a consummate game-player rather than a “take our country back” firebrand.

    Assuming she wins the nomination I’ll almost certainly vote for her. But I have to disagree with this interpretation of her actions — if using the server was about “playing the game”, it turns out to have been a losing move, no? In terms of the effect on her image.

    You seem to be saying that using the private server is a respectable action because it likely hides something more damning than the action itself. Or am I missing your point?

  19. James Pearce says:

    @Lenoxus:

    You seem to be saying that using the private server is a respectable action because it likely hides something more damning than the action itself. Or am I missing your point?

    To be clear, I don’t think the private server was a respectable action at all. I think it’s a breach of professional standards, if nothing else, not to mention a violation of federal practice. (I’m not going to call it illegal, though.)

    But I also think it’s something a cynical Washington operator, one who’s already been pawed at by investigators, would do. Hence the “gameplayer” epithet. I certainly didn’t mean it in an approving manner. More in a “Don’t hate the player; hate the game” kind of way.

    As for whether it’s a losing move….I dunno.

    If Hillary Clinton doesn’t become our next president, I don’t think it will be over this e-mail server.

  20. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jack:

    Would you be kind enough to point out the specific federal statute(s) that Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as SoS violated, please?

    You may call a friend if you need to.

  21. Grumpy Realist says:

    Well, I see the usual suspects are up to their old tricks….Doug, for a lawyer you are awfully non-lawyering. Haven’t you ever been exposed to the concept of a grey/nebulous area that only later gets controlled?

    And if you’re going to throw a fit about Hillary you have the duty to throw at least as big a stink about Colin Powell, Jeb Bush, and all the other Republicans who did the same thing…..

    Goose, gander.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @Grumpy Realist: Allow me to elaborate on W. Bush administration emails:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_White_House_email_controversy
    Conducting governmental business in this manner is a possible violation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978, and the Hatch Act.[1] Over 5 million emails may have been lost or deleted.[2][3] Greg Palast claims to have come up with 500 of the Karl Rove lost emails, leading to damaging allegations.[4] In 2009, it was announced that as many as 22 million emails may have been deleted.[5]

    The administration officials had been using a private Internet domain, called gwb43.com, owned by and hosted on an email server run by the Republican National Committee.

    But nothing ever came of it. Why? I guess IOKIYAR.

  23. stonetools says:

    If we are going to be interested in government officials’ emails, I would be VERY interested in Jeb Bush’s emails in November-December 2000 and Colin Powell’s around September 2002-March 2003.Of course , Doug and the Republicans show no interest in those emails.
    My guess is that the reason Clinton wants a public hearing and Gowdy does not is because the Republicans don’t want Clinton bringing up those emails.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @stonetools: What I read is that Clinton wants a public hearing because Gowdy’s picked up Issa’s nasty habit of selectively leaking snippets out of context.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Why are all these people suddenly concerned with Hillary’s e-mail practices? It’s not like it was some great secret the entire time she was at State. Am I supposed to believe she never corresponded with anyone at the FBI? Am I supposed to believe that everyone in all of the congressional committees that have ever been involved with State or any of the myriad of inevitable investigations they instigated which were either about State, something State did, or something State was involved in, were too stupid to read the e-mail address she was using? For 4 years? Nobody ever questioned it? For 4 frickin’ years??? But now all of a sudden, this is a problem?

    Or did something change since Hillary resigned from her position as SoS? And if so, whatever could it be?

  26. Moosebreath says:

    @gVOR08:

    “What I read is that Clinton wants a public hearing because Gowdy’s picked up Issa’s nasty habit of selectively leaking snippets out of context.”

    And the So-Called Liberal Media habit of breathlessly reporting Gowdy’s selectively leaked snippets as proven facts (I’m looking at you, New York Times).

  27. the Q says:

    Wow, my fellow libs have certainly drunk the Hillary Kool Aid. For the record, she epitomizes everything wrong with the baby boomer generation which is one of the worst in the history of the Republic.

    We all sat here and watched the idiots on the right embarrass themselves silly defending W, the Dickster, Rummy et al over their hopeless incompetency. How can these wingnuts be so blind to the staggering corruption, lies and distortions of the Bush presidency we asked? What more damage must they cause before those brainwashed fools see them for the disaster they were?

    And now I ask that same question here? EddieinCA equates his job working in Florida and using his own server to the office of the Secretary of State doing the same thing? Huh?

    Or, the classic, but “Johnny did it too argument” e.g. “hey the wingnuts did the same illegal shit but no one cared, so why can’t we do the same thing” TYPICAL BOOMER RESPONSE. The crime is not doing the crime, but getting caught.doing the crime. Since Colin did it, why can’t HRC? Because two wrongs always make a right.

    HRC and her husband are plutocrats plain and simple. Their kid gets a 650k salary right out of college. The Clinton foundation is a pimp front. Bill destroyed the Glass Steagall firewall at Rubin’s insistence. How else was he going to make 300 million after he resigned as Sec. of Treasury? No derivative oversight, fucking an intern where Lincoln rehearsed his “with Malice toward none” speech. Sickening. He should have resigned in disgrace after the “didn’t have sex with that woman” speech. Nixon gave the same “i am not a crook” remark and the libs rightfully roasted him for it. Bill gets a boner pass.

    Bush’s admin was full of scandal and resignations. The irony to Obama’s term will be that his only scandal will be caused by none other than the “I am above the law” HRC. Wow, never could have seen that coming.

    How many passes does this couple get? How many more parsings and smh explanations by these two does the country have to endure?

    But to see many of you turn the other cheek to the shenanigans just because she is Dem is so Jenos of you.

    HRC is as inauthentic and superficial as anyone in memory. She feels she is entitled to the job because….well because…..uh,….after college there’s grad school….then corporate sellout job….then pad the resume with public service….then run for office…then run for office again….then get a cool title/pad resume…..now, go tor the CEO job.

    No vision, no passion, just “hand me the job because like an Eagle scout, I got all the badges”.

    And thats why she will NEVER get the nomination. I am lifelong Dem and like many in the party are just looking for anybody else to vote for….and its coming to pass.

  28. Grewgills says:

    @the Q:

    And thats why she will NEVER get the nomination.

    Care to bet on that? I’ll put up pride and or money on that one.

  29. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @the Q:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re the liberal equivalent of the Tea Party – ideological and driven by ideology.

    No offense intended, but you’re preferred candidates (Sanders, no doubt) has no more chance of being nominated than Teatard favorite Ted Cruz does.

    The reality is Clinton will sail with the Democratic nomination in a walk. Bernard will pick up a handful of delegates, will have been treated well by Clinton (who will essentially ignore his candidacy), and he’ll endorse her with a smile – his ideas having been given their brief moment in the sun (which is all that he’s really seeking to begin with).

    He’s smart enough to know he’ll never be nominated, which is why he’s doing this in an off-year for his Senate seat. He wants to be heard. He doesn’t expect to be nominated – and he won’t be.

    If only his fanboys could grasp that simple concept …

  30. the Q says:

    Hey Harvard, don’t assume because you make an ass out of you and Uma Thurman (old Letterman line).

    I am a Jim Webb or Joe Biden guy.

  31. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @the Q:

    So you’re in a toss up between a guy who is currently 22 points down against Clinton in his home state and a guy who isn’t running at all?