Brief Issue Analysis: Hillary Clinton’s Email Server

Updated Brief Intro:

I recommend reading the very informative report by the Office of the Inspector General‘s initial 43 pages rather than digging through the deluge of information posted in the comment section below (though I thank Rob for his input).  It seems competent analysis has already been done by the Inspector General on our behalf, and I am comfortable with the consolidation of information provided thereby.

Updated Summary

So, let me make some things clear:

  1. Hillary Clinton’s conduct in regards to her use of a personal email server for her daily departmental operations obviously entails a fairly flamboyant disregard for IT best practices which were, in fact, well-established by the department’s IT staff, as determined by the IG’s report.
    1. The Department’s IT segment specifically instructed staff not to make use of non-government email systems for day-to-day operational purposes.  Ms. Clinton clearly violated this as thoroughly as possible, making exclusive use of her non-government email system.  The IG found that at least one other government official (an ambassador) was held accountable for violating this policy during Ms. Clinton’s tenure.
  2. This behavior is not unique to Ms. Clinton.  In fact, in my experience as an IT professional for organizations known to be targeted by nation-state-supported threat actors, such willful negligence is horribly common.  Directly pertinent to this particular case,
    1. Regarding previous Secretary of State Colin Powell:
      1. The Inspector General found that Mr. Powell disregarded the prohibition on private Internet connections from department property (he had a “private line” for an Internet connection installed in his office).
      2. The IG could not determine if Mr. Powell disregarded the prohibition on the use of personal computers (it is not known if his laptop connected to the above-mentioned connection was private or not).  The lack of record-keeping by the relevant IT staff in this regard is telling of the lack of professionalism obviously rampant in the department (and, sadly, everywhere).
      3. The IG found that Mr. Powell made exclusive use of an AOL account for his use of email in conducting official business.
        1. This does not appear to have run afoul of the injunction against such behavior (adopted by the IT staff in the State Department only after Mr. Powell’s departure) which was later disregarded by Ms. Clinton.
      4. The IG also found that Colin Powell disregarded record keeping practices entirely by failing to keep any of his emails from his private AOL account.
      5. Because of (iiii) and (iv), it is very difficult to determine whether any breaches of security policy regarding classified mail occurred due to Mr. Powell’s use of his AOL account.
    2. Regarding other government officials:
      1. Everyone seems to forget about the Bush White House email scandal in which perhaps as much as 22 million emails from a very large number of high-ranking officials (including cheney) went “missing” when requested for review.
  3. This sort of willful negligence, especially when committed by those who are purportedly the best America has to offer for its leadership, is absolutely unacceptable and must stop.

So, in short, this is a substantive example of misconduct by Ms. Clinton and her staff.  There is copious evidence that Ms. Clinton willfully disregarded clearly established best practices in a manner perhaps even more egregious than that of others who were subject to disciplinary action for their failures (also noted in the IG report).  Further, there is some evidence (seemingly independently asserted by two separate witnesses) that her higher department officials lied to lower-level staff members who expressed concerns and demanded their silence.

In a more perfect union, Ms. Clinton would not be eligible to hold the office of the President of the United States as a result of this flagrant series of willful failures.  Further, the IT operatives who failed to stop her from doing this should be held accountable as well; it is their job to prevent this from happening, and there is copious evidence that they knew about it (how could you not?  All of her email comes from a clearly private domain; this fact, even, caused issues with their anti-spam system, which they addressed…without shutting her practice down, as they should have).  Unfortunately, this reeks of yet another sad culture of worship for higher-ups and utter lack of respect for regulation.  If you work in America, you are probably familiar with this.

I expect that, given our current state in which an entire administration can lie us into a disastrous war of choice, turn the United States of America into a political body that tortures its enemies, and nonetheless completely escape any punitive action whatsoever, Ms. Clinton will not be indicted.  Or, if she is, the indictment will fail, or she will escape punishment.

This should concern us all very seriously.  Unfortunately, I fear we are not a population with the requisite degree of public sanity which will enable us to address these issues effectively at this point in time.

Tentative Conclusions for American Voters

Sadly, in my estimation, the failures outlined above represent exceedingly common qualities along with exceedingly common practice among not only politicians but top-ranking actors in important organizations across America.  This is no excuse for the behavior, and I am not seeking to apologize for it.  Nonetheless, the important conclusion is this:  This is a broad cultural problem of which Ms. Clinton is a part, and I see no evidence from this particular scandal that indicates that Ms. Clinton is significantly worse than others in this regard.  Perhaps most importantly, information revealed here does not demonstrate that she is worse than the alternative offered by the Republicans this election year.  Sadly, it does seem to significantly further substantiate the idea that a vote for Ms. Clinton is not the revolutionary vote which Mr. Sanders, in spite of his flaws, may have actually presented to the American people.

I hope that we, as a people, become competent enough (and reform our political system adequately) to allow for us to refuse to elect individuals with such qualities.  But, in my estimation, this is the kind of routine corruption which most people observe with unacceptably high frequency in their workplaces as well.  It is simply that, in this case, the stakes and risks are higher due to the nature of the profession in question.

That said, I hope American voters will realize that we are forever required to choose between imperfect alternatives, and assessing the degree of severity in regards to the defects of character presented by this information is what we must do, not simply throw our hands up and declare a false equivalence.

Again, I am open to input; my position on this will evolve, and I admit I have a very hard time seeing what could arise from this that would put Ms. Clinton in a worse light than the flagrant disregard for truth or principle on constant display from Mr. Trump, but should some such information surface, we will be in a genuinely terrible position indeed.

Update:  James Comey’s speech regarding the FBI’s recommendations to the Department of Justice is, in my estimation, well-considered and respectable.  His discussion of factors mitigating the act of bringing charges against Ms. Clinton are illuminating and reasonable.

The FBI’s position, it seems, is that there is good reason to sanction her from an administrative perspective (humiliating enough, in its own right, and still, in a more perfect union, prohibitive of her holding the office of President of the United States, in my estimation) but there is neither supplementary evidence of ill intent nor other evidence in line with historic precedent which would suggest that it is appropriate to bring charges of this nature against her.

For an additional rumination of questionable value; the conclusions of the FBI’s investigation align almost perfectly with my impression of Ms. Clinton; I have long believed that she is a person with good intent whose capacity to act above the table has been significantly reduced by constant repeated exposure to the toxicity of political life.  She has become fearful, resentful, and bitter towards her critics, and this email system struck me immediately as a consequence of exactly that.  Her captured remarks regarding her concern that the personal contents of her email system remain completely and utterly inaccessible to the public seemed to be in line with this.

I won’t fault her for desiring privacy, and I don’t fault her for thinking that she is frequently the target of malicious, dishonest attacks (see my write-up on the Benghazi report for the latest evidence in support of that conclusion), but I do worry a lot that her increasingly defensive and guarded posture towards critics will begin to permit an internal rot.  I worry that her growing perception of her opposition as bearers of dishonest malice will adversely impact her ability to accept critique, perhaps even from herself.

But that’s theoretical, and what we have is evidence which, yet again, seems to indicate she neither has malicious intent nor grand schemes to bamboozle the American people.  So, if anything good has come of this investigation, there is at least that.  On the negative side, we have evidence that she is willing to act extremely carelessly in the performance of very important duties when that carelessness facilitates her desire to prevent her opposition from launching irrational attacks against her.  That is, at the least, dangerous and concerning.

:End Update (7/5/2016)

Original Post

Boy did I get tired of hearing about this.  In fact, I started to seriously worry about it, myself.  Nothing is more pushed by the American Right than the purported obvious and outrageous corruption of the Clintons.  They ignore the disastrous Bush administration, its horrifyingly poor decisions to lead America in what is likely the worst foreign policy debacle since Vietnam, the myriad obvious conflicts of interest held by Cheney and others of the administration in that very debacle, the outlandishly bad combination of tax relief for the wealthy and an unpaid-for war, and they have the gall to blame the Democrats for our economic woes and call the Clintons corrupt.

But that said, it became very troubling to me to see that Clinton seemed to be skirting regulations quite willfully and, really, for what other-than-nefarious reason could that have been done?  She has claimed it was a simple move for convenience in her technologically illiterate life (she just HAD to keep that Blackberry..), and if I didn’t actually know important folks at institutions known to be targeted by foreign government-supported hacking efforts who made the same stupid decision, I wouldn’t believe it.

But I needed to know.  Is she really a pernicious liar trying to cover her ass here, or is she actually, possibly, telling the truth at least a fraction of the time which is consistent with modern politicians?

As it turns out, the answer appears very likely to be in the affirmative here.  After some digging, I came up with these pertinent facts which don’t seem to be very widely understood or pronounced:

  1. The only Secretary of State to have made exclusive use of government email for government business is… John Kerry.  Clinton’s successor.

In fact, Colin Powell used a personal AOL account!

So…uh…what?  Clinton is being attacked for doing something “unprecedented” in that she had her own email server.  But..to what extent is that worse than having your email hosted by A-O-effing-L?  As a professional software systems engineer, I admit it’s hard to know without some sort of in-depth forensic investigation of both systems at the time, but AOL ain’t exactly the most secure organization known to man.  On the other side, it’s clear that Clinton’s system had problems, sometimes quite glaring (though seemingly remediated somewhat quickly, as with the lack of encrypted communication for the first three months of its use), but to allege that this is FAR worse than using an AOL account without any other information seems pretty obviously partisan nonsense to me.

Another thing she’s getting grief over is that when it was requested that she turn over her server’s contents, she deleted some 30,000 emails she deemed to be of a personal nature.  Her opponents allege that she could have been deleting important content that she didn’t want anyone to know about.

Yup, could’ve been.  But, had she been using her government-issued email address, she would have had the same prerogative.

And as far as we can tell, the vast, vast majority of classified information in her emails were in fact retroactively classified, and were not classified at the time they were sent and received.  It does look like she perhaps carelessly declassified an email and sent it.  An email.  It is highly unlikely that this is the first time it has been done.

So does that mean she acted perfectly?  Absolutely not.  Use your damn government email address, Jebus.  But what has she said repeatedly, ad nauseum about the issue?

“I’m going to give the same answer I’ve given for many months,” Clinton replied. “It wasn’t the best choice. I made a mistake. It was not prohibited. It was not in any way disallowed, and as I’ve said and now has come out, my predecessors did the same thing, and many other people in the government.”

Look: she is not perfect, but it does seem that this is a problem which predated her, which she continued rather nonchalantly, and which she regrets having continued.  I honestly believe she doesn’t understand IT well enough to have made a serious error in judgment here; she just followed the lemmings.  In my estimation, what has been said here should be enough to give honest people a clue that this is at the very least not a singular issue, uniquely representative of Clinton’s horrifyingly poor judgment.

So there you go, if you’re interested.  I’m open to any sort of reasonable counter-argument here, but this reeks of being yet another distraction issue, and these distraction issues are really getting old.  Really.

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2 Responses to Brief Issue Analysis: Hillary Clinton’s Email Server

  1. Rob Harwood says:

    Hi, I’m sorry to say, but you have only done a very superficial look into this subject, and you’re basically just repeating Hillary’s talking points about this. I’m the furthest thing from a right-winger. If I were a US citizen, you’d probably figure me as a ‘progressive’. This is not a right-wing conspiracy, despite the many attempts, even within the MSM, to paint it that way. The very first thing to realize is that this is an FBI criminal investigation.

    In fact, there are now 2 FBI criminal investigations: One into Clinton’s use of the private server, which is related to national security, and the second into the Clinton Foundation, and HRC’s involvement with it while she was SoS, which is related to potential charges of corruption. But I’ll only focus on the national security case, because it is much more important, and could potentially land Clinton in jail.

    In fact, Colin Powell used a personal AOL account!

    So…uh…what? Clinton is being attacked for doing something “unprecedented” in that she had her own email server. But..to what extent is that worse than having your email hosted by A-O-effing-L?

    This is missing the point by a wide, wide margin. 1) The issue is not having personal email. 2) The issue is not having a private email server. 3) The issue is about having at least 22 emails containing so-called Special Access Program (SAP) information on her *unsecured* private email server, which is *outside* of the secured gov’t facilities that are designed to keep this top secret information safe. This act is illegal, regardless of intent, because the espionage law only requires gross negligence.

    That is the key issue. Since your report does not even mention these SAP emails, it is woefully incomplete and does not even address perhaps the most important detail.

    From that starting point of those 22 SAP emails, the rabbit hole goes very, very deep, and every step of the way looks worse and worse and worse for Clinton. I highly recommend getting an overview of this subject by reading the timeline(s) at http://www.thompsontimeline.com/The_Clinton_Email_Scandal_Timeline. Or, if you just want the latest news tidbits about it they have a ‘latest updates’ page at http://www.thompsontimeline.com/Latest_Timeline_Entries. That site is authored primarily by Paul Thompson, a Democrat who explains:

    I’m a Democrat. I would love if Hillary Clinton’s scandal didn’t exist or was just a partisan witch hunt. I don’t want to see a Republican win the presidency in 2016, especially not Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, who have historically high negative popularity poll numbers. But one cannot wish inconvenient facts away. We have to figure out what the truth is and then what its political implications might be.

    I think the scandal is widely misunderstood because the media has focused on its less important aspects. I used to think the scandal was big “nothingburger” and I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then I found out that the 31,000 deleted emails of her 60,000 emails from her time as secretary of state had been recovered by the FBI. Clinton claimed that she deleted those because they were all personal, but that’s not true (as I will explain below). So we can see she could face charges of destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice just for starters.

    This issue is not going away. It’s going to get bigger. It may even lead to Clinton getting indicted. It may even lead to her going to jail. It is truly a serious problem, and it’s not just about Clinton/Trump or left-wing/right-wing: It’s about the US’ national security and how that was affected by Clinton’s own actions while she was in full charge of the State Department.

    Cheers.

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