Journalists and commentators have done a poor job discussing Secretary Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. Key details have been left out of the story. The true significance of certain facts has not been made clear. Important inferences that can and should be made have not been.
Records Management and Information Security Awareness
I have been associated with a particular U.S. government agency since about the time Hillary Clinton became secretary of state. Every year I have been on the job I have received training and had to be certified in records management and information security awareness.
The training for both consists of a series of PowerPoint slides with a narrative audio track. After working through the slides one must take a multiple choice quiz. If one receives a grade of at least 85% certification is granted. A lower grade means the quiz must be repeated until the requisite score is achieved. Each year every federal government employee and federal government contractor (and I have to assume every appointed federal government official as well) connected with my agency is notified that they must again sit for the trainings, take the quizzes and be recertified. Failure to become recertified by a fixed deadline means that a person is locked out of and therefore cannot use and access any of the applications and databases needed to do our jobs. New hires are barred from doing their jobs until they complete the trainings for the first time.
For the purposes of this discussion I am going to lump records management training and information security awareness training into one. The training has always included a slide that explains the U.S. government policy on using personal email accounts to conduct government business. In the most plain and simple language possible government employees and government contractors (and I have to assume every appointed government official as well) are told that they should never use a personal email account to conduct government business unless they find themselves in a situation where they temporarily have no alternative. In such a circumstance, government workers and government contractors (and I have to assume appointed government officials as well) are instructed that they must, at the first available moment, forward a copy of all emails sent and received that relate to government business to their own government email address. (This has always been a part of the training and for this reason I was surprised when on November 26, 2014 President Barack Obama signed into law an update of the Federal Records Act which spelled out the fact that these messages must be forwarded to government email address.) The training has always made clear that this requirement is in place because government email accounts are the official repository for emails that constitute active federal government records.
The training likewise has never failed to cover how to properly handle documents that are not “releasable” (or “controlled”) to the public and therefore restricted for any number of reasons. Potential threats from hackers both foreign and domestic always received good coverage and the importance of using secured government computer networks to protect such restricted information is driven home. Applicable federal government laws and regulations regarding records management and the proper handling of restricted documents is another feature of the training that has always been present. We are even provided with links to additional resources for those who cannot understand basic English sentences.
Records Management and Information Security Awareness Training Provided to Hillary Clinton
The records management and security awareness training provided to Secretary Hillary Clinton, who never used her government email account and only used her personal email account to send and receive emails related to government work, and a number of high-ranking State Department officials who reported to Clinton and very often used a personal email account to conduct government business as well, was undoubtedly much more detailed and intense than that described above. I also have no reason to doubt that Clinton and the others were required to be retrained and recertified yearly just as they would be if they were connected to my agency.
I therefore do not hesitate to state unequivocally that Hillary Clinton and the others not only were entirely cognizant of the fact that the manner in which they utilized personal email accounts in the course of performing their jobs was absolutely indefensible but they were reminded of this fact on a yearly basis.
The Operable Question
Despite her obvious misconduct, Clinton and her supporters have tried to defend her behavior with regard to email. For the longest time Clinton had been saying that she never sent or received any classified material on her personal account and personal home server. Just this month she revised her position and stated that she “never sent or received any material marked [italics mine] classified ….”
The operable question is did Clinton send or receive on her personal email server emails containing any information that was not “releasable” (or “controlled”) and therefore restricted. Both career civil servants and the Obama appointee and Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles I. McCullough have already answered this question in the affirmative. Just four days ago it was reported that McCullough declared twenty-two of her emails were restricted at the highest level possible. In fact, they are of such a sensitive nature that not even a single word from them can be released to the public.
What Clinton Did and How She Characterized It
Before I predict how things will ultimately shake out I want to back up a bit. Clinton stated that all of the emails on her personal email server were examined in order to determine which constituted federal government records and which were purely personal in nature. Clinton wants the voters to believe that it was up to her, or in this case her attorneys, to decide which met the criteria of a federal record. Both federal law and regulations make clear that it is not within the authority of any appointed government official, government employee, or government contactor to decide what is and what is not a record. The definition of a federal record is spelled out in federal law and regulation. It is the duty of every government official, employee and contactor to preserve all federal records because these records are the property of the government and the people of the nation and not the government official connected with them. The argument I am making is more than just semantical. I believe Clinton may have chosen to characterize things in the manner she has to cover herself just in case it is shown that she failed to print and thereafter attempted to delete any federal records from her personal email server.
Clinton’s Personal Attorneys
As mentioned above, Clinton assigned to her personal attorneys the task of reading through the emails on her personal email server. When I learned this it struck me as odd. I had not known that it was even permissible for a government official, employee or contractor to pass of their legal obligation to preserve federal records under federal law and federal regulations to other individuals. Did Clinton’s personal attorneys have security clearances? Where these clearances high enough for them to see the information on her email server? I do not know the answers to either of these questions.
Cinton’s Printing Her Emails
I was likewise perplexed when I read that Clinton’s emails were printed and so handed over to the State Department in paper format. I can think of no good reason why the emails were not turned over in electronic form. Perhaps this is why, to my knowledge, Clinton has never even attempted to offer an explanation as to why she did not just delete the personal emails on her server and subsequently give over the server with all of her government business-related emails intact.
A consideration of the impact of Clinton’s submission of her emails in paper may help us understand her decision. If the emails were submitted in electronic format, they could have been keyword searched and so efficiently and effectively examined by both Congressional investigators and those who made F.O.I.A. (Freedom of Information Act) requests for Clinton’s communications. Emails in paper format could not be keyword searched. The work of both those investigating Clinton’s email scandal and individuals interested in learning about how Clinton did her job as Secretary of State could not be done as well or as fast.
It is true that the paper versions of Clinton’s emails may have been scanned by investigators and therefore turned into searchable digital copies. However, this effort would be a time consuming process in addition to coming at significant and unnecessary expense to the tax payer. Furthermore, the optical character recognition technology utilized in the process offers an accuracy rate of between about 85 to 90%. Keyword searches done of the emails on Clinton’s server would not be 100% reliable.
It is obvious why someone in Clinton’s shoes would care not about defying the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act and make the work of those who want to mine her emails for information that could hurt her during a presidential run as difficult and as slow going as possible. As far as the investigations of her are concerned, doing all she could to a slow down investigators is a classic strategy deployed by politicians at the center of a scandal. As the investigations dragged on Clinton and her supporters have been able to proclaim that despite the fact that the investigations have gone on seemingly forever, no end has been reached. The implication is meant to be that if Clinton were guilty of anything the investigations would have been wrapped up by this time. Clinton hopes that if enough time passes, the voters will reach “investigation fatigue,” become sick and tired of hearing about the story and no longer care that the final chapter of her email scandal story will reflect very badly upon her.
In order to understand the full significance of Clinton’s printing her emails and deleting the electronic versions of these communications one must be familiar with the Information Science concept of a “true copy.” A true copy, a term I am not aware has been brought up by anyone in connection with Clinton’s email, is one that is identical to the original in terms of information content. Embedded in the electronic copies of Clinton’s emails was information that could be accessed through digital forensics. Since the printed emails did not include this digital information they were not technically a “true copy” of the electronic originals and Clinton’s deleting the electronic versions made her guilty of the serious federal crime of destroying original federal government records. I must admit, however, that the standard I am applying here is more strict than the one the federal government uses. To put it another way, Clinton has committed a crime but will not be held legally accountable for her action. We have then yet another example of a government official’s tiptoeing on the line between legal and illegal.
We May Never Know
What may be the most impactful reason why Clinton’s having deleted all of her original emails and passed along what she asserts are paper copies of government business related emails are ones I have not yet touched upon. If the F.B.I. are not able to recover all emails from the server that Clinton had directed be 100% erased we will never know whether she was being truthful when she said that she printed all government records on the server and only deleted personal emails.
Clinton’s Paper Emails May Have been Doctored
What seems to have been lost on all who commented on Clinton’s email scandal is that it would be a simple matter for someone to doctor the content of an email on Clinton’s server, print out the doctored version and delete the original undoctored version. It has already been learned that some of the emails on Clinton’s server were either sent to or received from other personal email accounts. Since the investigators will not have access to all of these other personal email accounts, it will not be known for certain that all the paper copies submitted by Clinton are in every way an accurate reflection of the text of the emails that were found on the server at the moment they were first sent or received unless the F.B.I. is successful in recovering all emails deleted from Clinton’s server.
Yet another troubling aspect of Clinton having deleted her emails and passed paper copies along is the impact of her doing so on file attachments. I am again shocked that no person has mentioned, at least as far as I know, that if she had submitted her emails in electronic form, one would have been able to open and read all file attachments associated with these emails. If the F.B.I.s digital forensic experts do not succeed in a 100% recovery of all deleted emails on Clinton’s server any files attached to her emails will forever remain a mystery. Perhaps this is how Clinton wanted it.
Clinton and Other Government Employees and Contractors
If you have read this far, you are probably revisiting the question of how Clinton allowed herself to get in this mess. She has stated that she used a personal email account on a personal email server to send and receive all of her government-related emails for convenience sake because she did not want to carry around more than one phone or handheld device. I think it is safe to assume that every government employee and contractor connected with the government agency with which I am associated maintains both a U.S. government email address and a personal email address. Accept for an occasional message to our significant others informing them when we are coming home late from work, we do not send nor receive personal emails through our government email accounts because we know that it would be both against policy and unprofessional to do so. Since none of us have any trouble keeping two simultaneous email accounts and keeping our personal email separate from our government email, regardless of whether we carry one or two phones or handheld devices, I have to conclude Clinton would have had no trouble doing the same if she desired to do so. Furthermore, one of the many people who surround the Secretary of State seemingly at all times could have relieved Clinton of the burden of carrying around those oh so heavy phones and handheld devices.
Why Clinton Did What She Did
The only conceivable reason why Clinton would have wanted to use a personal email account set up on a private server for all of her government-related emails was the desire to be able to control, and possibly restrict and or prevent, access to her communications in a manner that would not have been possible if she used her government email address and email account for all of her work-related communications. Keep in mind, those reading this, that as explained previously, all emails related to Clinton’s job are the property of the government and the American people.
Did Clinton Really Never Have a Government Email Address?
The subject of government email addresses and accounts reminds me of how surprised I was to read of the claim that no government email address was ever created for Clinton. I believe that the way things have worked at my agency for as long as I have been associated with it has been that a government email address is automatically created for each and every new employee, contractor, and I would assume appointed official as well, as soon as a she or he comes on board. Could it be the truth is that Clinton had a government email address all along and just did not want to use it?
55,000 Pages of Emails
Before I wrap up I want to make a few last points. Clinton stated that there were 55,000 pages of emails on her personal server and they were divided about equally between government emails and personal emails. Does anyone with a fulltime job send and recieve the same amount of personal and work emails? I estimate that I send and receive ten times as many work emails as personal emails. Should we believe that Clinton’s situation was that different?
The “Everybody Does It” Defense
On numerous occasions Clinton and her supporters have attempted to defend her handling of email by comparing her to other government officials. I do not allow my six-year-old child to get away with the “everybody does it” defense. We should not allow Clinton to get off the hook by using the same excuse.
The reader can now breathe easy knowing that I am going to finish with a prediction of what will happen next. It is without question then, that the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s email scandal will result in its recommendation to the Justice Department that she be indicted for her improper handling of restricted information found on her personal email server. What follows will be one of the most interesting chapters of American political history. I will blog about it very soon.
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