Richter: What Clinton email saga reveals
Hillary Clinton testifies this week before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders, Republicans who run the committee have not yet heard enough about Hillary's “damn emails.”
Hillary’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state has been called cavalier, even reckless. Yet prominent public officials have occasionally used private email servers to conduct government business.
While in government, Colin Powell, Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin also used private email accounts. Former president Bill Clinton used a private server, as have other past presidents. In fact, Hillary was using her husband’s email server under Secret Service guard.
The State Department knew about Hillary’s private server and sanctioned it. No one has said that the FBI or NSA ever complained that Hillary’s use of a private server might be a problem. Using a non-government email server was legal for many high-level officials, as long as it is approved by intelligence authorities. One stipulation was that Hillary and other former secretaries of state were required to turn over their work-related emails when requested. Hillary complied.
Did Hillary’s use of a private, instead of a government email account endanger state secrets? Hundreds, perhaps thousands of government employees, military and intelligence officials, journalists and foreign diplomats sent or received emails from Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state. These security-savvy people routinely corresponded with public officials who used dot-gov accounts. They knew full well that Hillary’s email address was a private one, not a state.gov email account.
Government officials live in an Internet age of paranoia. They are constantly concerned about threats like Wiki-leaks, Edward Snowden and Chinese cyber-attacks. Yet, over four years, not a single person in the U.S. diplomatic or intelligence communities who corresponded with then-Secretary Clinton ever publically disclosed Hillary’s supposed peril to the national security of our nation. Many were Republicans or career bureaucrats protected by civil service. Yet no one complained.
In recent years foreign hackers have gained access to enormous troves of U.S. government online secrets. Hackers did this not by simply peeking into private email accounts, but by penetrating supposedly secure government email systems like the one used by the U.S. State Department.
The key to securing government secrets is not using a government versus a private email server. It is self-censoring the substance of your conversations, letters and emails. Loose lips sink ships.
That’s why Hillary Clinton, while secretary of state, said that she routinely viewed top secret material on paper only and while at a secure location. Congressmen and senators on intelligence committees exchange state secrets in person or on paper at secure locations — seldom using emails even on their dot-gov accounts. The real threat to national security is obsolete government internet security systems.
About half of Hillary’s email correspondence were sent or received by State Department and other government employees. These emails were captured, and therefore archived, on government internet servers. Hillary insists that she always responded to government-related emails by replying on government-secured email addresses like state.gov.
We all leave electronic footprints stored on the internet systems of both the senders and recipients of our internet communications. Any personal emails sent or received by Hillary were stored on her secure private server. They were not readily accessible to the prying eyes of hackers lurking on the well-known public servers that most Americans use every day.
If Hillary deleted all of her purely private emails, after her staff inspected them for work-related content, those electronic footprints still remain on other people’s servers. Those contact logs contain the subject, date, recipient, and sender of Hillary’s emails. Almost all this information plus the word-for-word content of her private emails still exists on the private email accounts of hundreds of Hillary’s friends.
Did Hillary divulge state secrets? Big charges require big evidence. After months of sound and fury, the political innuendo against the former Secretary of State amounts to little more than partisan theater.
Frank Richter taught government at Wayne State University and was a political writer for Ross Perot.