Your "convenience" is not an option
By John D. Turner
2 Apr 2015

"Again, looking back, it would have been better for me to have used two separate phones, and two email accounts. I thought using one device would have been simpler and obviously it hasn't worked out that way." - Hillary Clinton on her use of her private email for official business during her tenure as Secretary of State.

Poor Hillary Clinton; just a hard-working civil servant of the people, trying her best to do the right thing, all the while being set-upon by those slavering running-dog swine Republicans for doing what any normal person would have done in her place. How dare they question her veracity, her forthcomingness, her integrity! Of course she gave them all the emails they "needed;" of course her personal server is as secure as Fort Knox; and of course she has the right and privilege to weed through her emails and determine which are "official" and which are "personal," and release, keep, or delete on that basis.

Except of course, she doesn't.

As a "servant of the people," political appointee or not, Hillary Clinton is bound by not only regulation, but public law. Part of that law states that her emails, particularly in a high position as Secretary of State, are "official documents." As such, said documents belong in a government archive, not on her personal server. This is akin to Richard Nixon refusing to turn over the Watergate tapes on the grounds that they were his own personal tapes, and then erasing the "personal portions" of said tapes before finally giving them up.

If indeed, her staff at the State Department told her that she had the "option" of using her personal email account for official business instead of an official government email account, then they did her a disservice. She doesn't actually have that option. In her statement she said that it "was allowed by the State Department." This, to me, is simply typical, nuanced, "Clinton speak" in the same vein as "it depends on what the meaning of is, is."

I have worked for the Federal Government in one capacity or another since 1980. When I started work, there were no "personal computers" or email. Ever since I got my first however, it was made clear to me that despite the moniker "personal computer," my computer at work was anything but "personal." I have been told repeatedly that it is for government business only, not personal business. That includes my email account. I have also been told repeatedly not to use my personal email for government business and vice versa.

I have also been told, repeatedly, that my personal computer at home is not to be used for government business. Indeed, if I were to do so, it is possible that the government could seize my computer and keep it as government property.

It is true that government policy does permit a limited use of government equipment for personal use, with the word "limited" being the operative phrase. As an example, DoD regulations on the Use of Government Resources state that "The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, 5 C.F.R. Part 2635, acknowledge that "there may be circumstances when an employee may properly use Government property or official time for activities other than the performance of the official duties of the employee's position." You may peruse the document further if desired for the exact circumstances, which are duly noted. It is a pretty dry read, and of course, does not address the issue of using your own personal gear for official government purposes. What about that?

It is also true that in recent years, the federal government has allowed some workers to telecommute from home. We explored that option here where I work - but the rules one had to follow were so onerous that we dropped the idea pretty quickly.

In order to work from home, we had to work from a government owned computer, not our own personal computer. This of course, meant that the organization would have to spring for another box, an expense they were unwilling to bear. In addition, the machine had to reside in an area of the home not used for any other purpose. The computer was not allowed to be used for any other purpose either. It had to meet the same standards as computers at the office, meaning it had to be equipped with the same software, same virus protection, and had to be CAC enabled, meaning that it needed to be set up to only be accessed via a Common Access Card.

There were other rules as well, but the upshot was that in order to work from home, one had to be set up as if they were working at work and must be on government furnished equipment, not their own personal machines. It definitely was not set up for our "convenience."

Now I will admit that I am hardly the Secretary of State. But then again, the Secretary of State is bound by the same rules, regulations, and more importantly, public law as I. Perhaps even more so as he or she is definitely a bigger target when it comes to hackers and foreign intelligence services. I am not going to get into quoting public law here; if you are interested, Google it yourself. Suffice it to say that there are all sorts of things ranging from rules, regs, and laws regarding official documents, to FOIA requests that Hillary's personal server runs afoul of.

One thing that stuck out for me is her insistence that there was "no classified material" on her server. I for one find that very hard to believe.

Quite aside from the fact that I would think it improbable that one could serve as Secretary of State for years and never have a classified email, there is the additional problem of caveated unclassified email, which is also not supposed to be on one's personal machine.

What is caveated unclassified email? Things such as "For Official Use Only (FOUO)," "Sensitive but Unclassified (SBU)", and "Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES)", none of which are supposed to be on anything other than official government computer systems. And that doesn't even include things like PII (Personally Identifiable Information), aka Privacy Act Information.

Things such as organizational charts or recall rosters are examples of "For Official Use Only", and PII, since they contain personally identifiable information. On occasion we receive reports on areas where we are not supposed to travel due to problems in those areas. These are usually classified FOUO as well; sometimes they are even SBU or LES. I again find it hard to believe that former Secretary Clinton would not have received such briefings in her unclassified email, particularly in view of the fact that she visited so many parts of the world.

I also find it hard to believe that any email correspondence regarding the events at Benghazi would be free of any of these caveats either - FOUO at the very least. But then again, what do I know? I'm not the Secretary of State.

Of course, she could have received them on her official government unclassified system - except that she has stated that she didn't have one; that would have been "inconvenient."

Former Secretary Clinton's claim that "all the emails exist on other people's machines because she emailed them - look for them there" is also disingenuous. (Oops! I just used one of those "coded sexist words" there that I am not supposed to use in conjunction with Hillary Clinton. Apparently portions of the English language are now off limits when discussing her.) I can just imagine what would happen if I were to respond, for example, to a FOIA request with the statement "check everyone else I sent email to - I delete my emails on a regular basis." What former Secretary Clinton doesn't seem to understand is that the onus is not on everyone else to produce her emails - it is on her.

And now comes the piece de resistance; she wiped her server, effectively giving the big middle finger to anyone in the government audacious enough to subpoena her "personal" email. Think “Richard Nixon erasing the Watergate tapes.”

At this point, her server should be turned over to NSA so they can go through it with a fine-toothed comb. It is very hard to permanently get rid of anything, and it is possible to read files that have been "deleted" from hard drives, even if they have been overwritten or reformatted. Perhaps the good folks at NSA can take a break from looking at our metadata and have a crack at cracking Hillary's disks. Then again, if she was smart, (and there is no doubt that the Clintons are smart) she would have replaced all the drives in the server and ensured their destruction so that there would be nothing to find. I would expect her IT folks to have handled this minor detail.

The Republicans on the investigation committee may fume - but with no evidence there is little they can do. Will any of this damage Hillary's presidential bid? Probably not. Her fans will just chalk it up to Republican's "picking on Hillary" and move on.

Should they care? I think so. After all, what do they expect she will do if elected President? Does anyone actually believe that she will suddenly acquire a government account and do all her business there? Is that what everyone wants - another secretive administration? (Oops! I used another forbidden word.)

How about if we apply the "George Bush" test. If George Bush were found to have had a secret server where he did all his official business, one that he could edit as he saw fit, and could wipe if he so desired, rather than turn it and his official records over to the American public, would you be good with that? How about Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld? How about Condoleezza Rice? She was Secretary of State. Would it have been OK for her to have her own private personal server for her own convenience?

Anyone who believes that Hillary went to all the trouble and expense to set up her own personal server simply for her "convenience" must be living in Washington State or Colorado where dope smoking is now legal. Of course, perhaps it depends on your definition of the word "convenience." I have to admit, it is "convenient" to be able to go through your emails and edit what you turn over, knowing that you have the only copies that exist, and that there are no "inconvenient" copies residing in backups of some government server somewhere. As the originator of the emails, it is incumbent on Ms. Clinton to retain copies for official records not those who received the emails, who, unless they were part of the decision making chain, are free to delete them.

I am sure, too, that it is “convenient” not to have to respond to a FOIA request or congressional subpoena for records residing on your government computer because of course, they are not there to begin with. Perhaps “flexibility,” not “convenience” is the word that should be used; the flexibility to respond to requests as she desired, not as the law requires. “Plausible deniability” might work as well.

We have these rules for a reason. Many were enacted after Richard Nixon resigned, to avoid such things in the future, and to ensure transparency in government. I don't recall anything in the laws that say they only apply to Republicans or that Democrats are exempt. There is no "convenience" clause that I recall. The laws are designed to bind our government "servants," not to make life easy for them.

Hillary Clinton does not get a bye just because she is Hillary Clinton. At least she shouldn't.

PS: Apparently I have run afoul of yet another newly forbidden "sexist codeword rule" regarding Hillary Clinton; that is, using her first name. She is supposed to be referred to as "Ms. Clinton;" anything else is sexist and disrespectful.