Email exchanges released on Wednesday by Judicial Watch, a conservative advocacy group, show that in December 2010, filters were blocking messages from then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff, sending them to the spam folder or making them bounce.
So the State Department turned them off.
The department’s IT staff did so nervously, given that there were plenty of reasons not to. And following the step, the State Department’s unclassified email system has been breached – repeatedly.
As shown in one of the email exchanges, a State Department contractor support tech confirmed that two filters needed to be shut off in order to temporarily keep Clinton’s email from bouncing or from being labeled spam – a measure that it took in spite of the fact that the filters had “blocked malicious content in the recent past.”
Turning the filters off potentially exposed the department to phishing attacks and other malicious email.
According to the email exchanges released by Judicial Watch, this is how the filter shutdown went down:
17 March 2009: State Department staff wrote up a memo about the server they found in the basement of Clinton’s New York house.
November 2010: Secretary Clinton and her Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations discussed the fact that her emails to Department employees were being sent to spam. Clinton Chief of Staff Huma Abedin suggested to Clinton that she move her email over to an official address:
We should talk about putting you on State e-mail or releasing your e-mail address to the department so you are not going to spam.
Clinton shot down the idea, replying with this suggestion:
Let’s get [a] separate address or device but I don’t want any risk of the personal [e-mail] being accessible.
Clinton never did wind up using a government-issued account. She relied solely on a non-government BlackBerry to send and receive emails.
According to Judicial Watch, the director of the State Department’s information resources management office of the executive secretariat – that would have been John Bentel at the time – noted in another email conversation that an email account and address had already been set up for the Secretary and also stated that “you should be aware that any email would go through the Department’s infrastructure and subject to FOIA searches.”
October 2011: An exchange discussed how the mail filter system was causing some emails from Clinton’s private server – Clintonemail.com – to be blocked. Some messages were “bounced,” while the server accepted some but quarantined others and failed to deliver them.
According to email threads, the IT team turned off both spam and antivirus filters on two “bridgehead” mail relay servers while waiting for a fix from the vendor. One question was whether that fix would arrive before the State Department upgraded to the latest version of the mail filtering software. One member of the IT team, Trey Jammes, doubted whether it would, given that the problems hadn’t been fixed over the course of two years: from 2010 through 2012.
The email threads don’t show whether the email problems were ever resolved.
They do, however, include an email from a former aide to President Bill Clinton, Justin Cooper.
In that thread, Cooper explains to Abedin that the server had been shut down briefly because “we were attacked again.”
I had to shut down the server…Someone was trying to hack us and while they did not get in I didn’t want to let them have the chance. I will restart it in the morning.