A state.gov Email Account Is Not a Secure Account

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I had a conversation today on Twitter that suggests there’s something that perhaps a lot of people don’t quite understand. Hillary Clinton says that she trusted her staff to make sure they sent only unclassified information to her email account. That’s fine for her close aides, who knew what she was doing, but what about people who didn’t realize she was using an account on a private server? Perhaps they felt free to send her classified material because they assumed she was on a state.gov account?

No. First of all, they could see her email address when they sent her stuff. But that’s not the real explanation. The real reason they made sure not to send her classified material was because they themselves were using unclassified systems. Here’s a typical email:

Philip Crowley is sending this email from his state.gov account. Reines, Mills and Verveer also have state.gov accounts. But that doesn’t mean they’re secure accounts. They aren’t. They’re supposed to be used only for nonsensitive material. If you want to exchanged classified information, there’s a separate State Department system. (Or you can do it in person, or over a secure phone or fax.)

That’s why Clinton trusted her staff to follow proper procedures. It didn’t matter whether she had a state.gov address or not. Even if she did, it would have been limited to unclassified material, and everyone knew it. With one trivial exception, everybody followed this rule faithfully: no one in four years sent Clinton anything via email that they thought was sensitive. This remains true even if some classification authorities in the intelligence community—which tends to be far more hypersensitive than State—disagreed several years later.

Bottom line: Whatever else you think of Clinton’s reasons for using a personal server, she wasn’t endangering classified material by using it. Everyone else was also using unsecure email, and they knew not to use it to send classified documents.

However, what Clinton was doing was endangering proper storage and retention of her emails. Why did she do that? I’ll have more about this tomorrow.


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