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Hillary Clinton Is Criticized for Private Emails in State Dept. Review

The State Department's inspector general on Wednesday sharply criticized Hillary Clinton's exclusive use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, saying that she had not sought permission to use it and would not have received it if she had.

The report, delivered to members of Congress, undermined some of Mrs. Clinton's previous statements defending her use of the server and handed her Republican critics, including the party's presumptive nominee for president, Donald J. Trump, new fodder to attack her just as she closes in on the Democratic nomination.

The inspector general found that Mrs. Clinton "had an obligation to discuss using her personal email account to conduct official business" with department officials but that, contrary to her claims that the department "allowed" the arrangement, there was "no evidence" she had requested or received approval for it.

And while other senior officials had used personal email accounts for official business, including Colin Powell when he was secretary, the rules made clear by the time she became the nation's top diplomat that using a private server for official business was neither allowed nor encouraged because of "significant security risks."

Mrs. Clinton's use of a private server was known by some officials beyond her closest aides, but no one in the State Department told her directly to use the department's official email. When two officials in the record-keeping division raised concerns in 2010, their superior "instructed the staff never to speak of the secretary's personal email system again," the report said.

The report, as well as an F.B.I. investigation and other legal challenges seeking information about her emails, is certain to keep alive a controversy that has shadowed Mrs. Clinton's campaign.

Mrs. Clinton and her aides have played down the inquiries, saying that she would cooperate with investigators to put the email issue behind her. Even so, she declined to be interviewed by the inspector general, Steve A. Linick, or his staff, as part of his review. So did several of her senior aides.

A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton's campaign, Brian Fallon, did not respond to a request for comment about her refusal, among other questions. In a written statement, he said that the report showed that her use of a private email account was "not unique," citing the use of personal emails by some of her predecessors. "She took steps that went much further than others to appropriately preserve and release her records," the statement said.

In an already tumultuous, highly polarizing election season, the reaction to the findings broke along partisan lines. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democratic supporter of Mrs. Clinton's, said the findings revealed "nothing new." Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York, who previously criticized the inspector general's office as politicized, called the report a "hatchet job." Mr. Trump, who has waged an often brutal attack on Mrs. Clinton's character and honesty, said in a telephone interview that the findings reflected a pattern of dishonesty. "She's always looking for an edge and always getting caught," he said.

The 79-page report added considerable new detail about the former secretary of state's use of the server, as well as her motivation for setting it up. Mrs. Clinton has publicly said the arrangement was a matter of convenience, but emails disclosed in the report made it clear that she worried that personal emails could be publicly released under the Freedom of Information Act. In November 2010, her deputy chief of staff for operations prodded her about "putting you on State email" to protect her email from spam. Mrs. Clinton declined. She replied that while she would consider a using a separate address or device, "I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible."

The report did not delve deeply into the issue that has become the focus of the F.B.I.'s investigation — the references in dozens of emails to classified information, including 22 emails that the C.I.A. said contained information on programs or sources that were "top secret." It nonetheless called into question the risks of using a private system for what were clearly sensitive discussions of the nation's foreign policy.

It noted that Mrs. Clinton sent or received most of the emails that traversed her server from a mobile device, her BlackBerry. Department officials told the inspector general's office that "Secretary Clinton never demonstrated to them that her private server or mobile device met minimum information security requirements," the report said.

The report also criticized Mrs. Clinton for not adhering to the department's rules for handling records under the Federal Records Act once she stepped down in January 2013. She did not do so until late 2014, when the State Department, under pressure from Republicans in Congress investigating the 2011 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, requested that she turn them over.

It was only then that Mrs. Clinton instructed her aides to cull through roughly 60,000 emails that had passed through the server and turn over those involving official business. Those amounted to roughly half of the total. "Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the department's policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act," the report said.

While acknowledging that Mrs. Clinton had ultimately complied with requests to turn over the emails, the report determined that the effort was "incomplete." Investigators found that she had not included those she sent and received in her first months as secretary from January to April 2009. Last year, the Department of Defense also turned over 19 emails between Mrs. Clinton and then-Gen. David H. Petraeus that had been sent from his official email account to her private account but had not been included among those turned over.

The report broadly criticized the State Department as well, saying that officials had been "slow to recognize and to manage effectively the legal requirements and cybersecurity risks" that emerged in the era of emails, particularly those of senior officials like Mrs. Clinton.

It said that "longstanding systemic weaknesses" in handling electronic records went "well beyond the tenure of any one secretary of state." The inspector general's review covered the practices of five secretaries going back to Madeleine K. Albright, when the Internet remained a novelty, especially in the hidebound bureaucracy of the State Department.

Mrs. Albright and Condoleezza Rice told the inspector general that they did not use personal email. But the report singled out Mr. Powell, who was secretary from 2001 to 2005, saying he regularly used a private email address to communicate with people outside the building.

Mr. Powell told investigators he used the address only for unclassified emails, but at least two emails forwarded to him have since been determined to have included information that is now classified.

The rules governing emails under previous secretaries were, the report said, "very fluid." By the time Mrs. Clinton came to office, however, they were "considerably more detailed and sophisticated," spelling out the "obligation to use department systems in most circumstances and identifying the risks of not doing so."

The department issued numerous warnings dating back a decade about the cybersecurity risks of using personal emails accounts for government business, the report said. Mrs. Clinton was personally sent a memo in 2011 warnings of hackers trying to target unclassified, personal email accounts. She was also given a classified, in-person briefing on the dangers, the report said.

The report also disclosed an attempt to hack into Mrs. Clinton's server in January 2011. It said a "nondepartmental adviser" to Bill Clinton — apparently Bryan Pagliano, who installed the private server — informed the department that he had shut down the system because "someone was trying to hack us and while they did not get in, I didn't want to let them have a chance."

The attack continued later that day, prompting another official to write to two of Mrs. Clinton's top aides, Cheryl D. Mills and Jake Sullivan, to warn them not to send her "anything sensitive." The official said that she would "explain more in person." The report found that while dozens of State Department employees used personal email accounts periodically over the years, including Ms. Mills and Mr. Sullivan, only three officials were found to have used it "exclusively" for day-to-day operations: Mrs. Clinton; Mr. Powell, and Jonathan Scott Gration, who was ambassador to Kenya from 2011 to 2012.

Department officials never directly told Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Powell that they needed to end their use of personal email, the report found, but in Mr. Gration's case, they did. In 2011, officials warned him that he was not authorized to use personal email for government business in Kenya. He continued doing so, and the department initiated disciplinary action over "his failure to follow these directions" and several other undisclosed infractions, the report said. He resigned in 2012 before any action was taken.

Secretary of State John Kerry also acknowledged to the inspector general that he had used a personal account at times, but "began primarily using his department email account to conduct official business." Mr. Kerry said that while he still occasionally responded to people who emailed him on his personal account, he would preserve the emails for the record.

[Source: By Steven Lee Myers and Eric Lichtblau, The New York Times, Washington, 25May16]

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Privacy and counterintelligence
small logoThis document has been published on 27May16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.