Around June 2011: The State Department gets a say in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, leading to email trouble for Clinton and others.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter (Credit: India Times)

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter (Credit: India Times)

For several years, the CIA has been conducting a secret drone program in Pakistan, targeting Islamist militants in the mountainous region near the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani government has secretly allowed the program while publicly protesting it, because the Pakistani public is mostly against it. In 2011, Pakistani officials push back against the program due to the growing number of strikes and an increasing public backlash.

In June 2011, the Wall Street Journal reports that there is a debate about the scale of the program inside the US government. State Department and military officials argue that the CIA needs to be more selective with their strikes. Also, for the first time, State Department officials are given a say. The CIA begins notifying US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter about planned drone strikes, and this information gets passed up the State Department to Clinton and other top officials. The department then gets to concur or not concur with the strike.

For the rest of Clinton’s tenure until February 2013, the department objects to a planned strike only once or twice. But the strikes will often be discussed by Clinton and other State Department officials in unsecured email channels, and this will later be a focus of the FBI’s Clinton investigation. (The Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2016(The Wall Street Journal, 6/4/2011)

After June 2011 to Late 2012: Clinton and other State Department officials sometimes discuss proposed drone strikes in Pakistan in unsecured emails.

A rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, to condemn US drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, on October 28, 2011. (Credit: The Associated Press)

A rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, to condemn US drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, on October 28, 2011. (Credit: The Associated Press)

According to a June 2016 Wall Street Journal article, there are a series of Clinton emails in these two years regarding the US drone program in Pakistan. Starting roughly around June 2011, the State Department is given the right to approve or disapprove of the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan as part of the US government’s attempt to mollify Pakistan’s concerns so they will continue their secret support of the program.

However, this creates a communication problem, because advanced warning of strikes varies from several days to as little as half an hour. According to the Journal, “Under strict US classification rules, US officials have been barred from discussing strikes publicly and even privately outside of secure communications systems.”

As a result, US intelligence officials want State officials to use a very secure system to discuss the strikes, called JWICS (Joint Worldwide Intelligence Community Systems). But few State officials have access to JWICS, even in Washington, DC, so they use another secure system commonly known as the “high side” (SIPR or, Secret Internet Protocol Router Network).

However, this can be slow as well as difficult to access outside of normal work hours. As a result, according to the Journal, on about a half-dozen different occasions, State officials use the “low side,” which means unsecure computers, such as emailing from a smart phone. This is often said to take place at night, or on the weekend or holiday, or when people are traveling, or when a proposed drone strike is imminent. It is not clear why secure phone lines are not used instead.

The emails are usually vaguely worded so they don’t mention the “CIA,” “drones,” or details about the militant targets, unnamed officials will later claim. These emails sometimes are informal discussions that take place in addition to more formal notifications done through secure communications. In some cases, these emails about specific drone strikes will later be deemed “top secret,” making up many of Clinton’s reported 22 top secret emails.

According to the Journal, unnamed US officials will later say that there “is no evidence Pakistani intelligence officials intercepted any of the low side State Department emails or used them to protect militants.” (The Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2016)

June 2011: Huma Abedin’s emails are requested, but the State Department will not turn any over.

Gawker files a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for some of Clinton’s deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin’s email correspondence. The exact scope of the request is not clear from media accounts. The State Department eventually returns no documents, although the timing of their reply also is not clear.

In March 2015, it will be revealed that Abedin primarily used an email account at the clintonemail.com server, just like Clinton did. Presumably this is why no emails are turned over. However, she also used a .gov email account. (Gawker, 3/3/2015)

June 2011—August 2012: A US ambassador is warned not to use private email for daily work matters, but Clinton’s identical behavior does not result in any warnings.

Scott Gration (Credit: New Republic)

Scott Gration (Credit: New Republic)

In June 2011, shortly after Scott Gration becomes the new US ambassador to Kenya, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) learns that he has sent out a revised policy allowing himself and other personnel in his embassy to use private email addresses for the daily communication of official government business.

Gration’s new policy happens to take place the same month the department sends out a cable warning all embassies to “avoid conducting official department business from your personal email accounts” due to a surge in hacking attacks of the personal emails of government employees. DS warns Gration they will be sending an experienced computer security officer to Kenya to reestablish proper communications procedures. DS officials also email him that this visit will be “especially timely in the wake of recent headlines concerning a significant hacking effort directed against the private, web-based email accounts of dozens of senior [government] officials…”

However, Gration continues to use his private email for work matters. Then, on July 20, 2011, a DS cable quotes from the department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM): “it is the department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized [system].” The cable then warns, “Given the threats that have emerged since 2005, especially in regard to phishing and spoofing of certain web-based email accounts, we cannot allow the proliferation of this practice beyond maintaining contact during emergencies,” and there is nothing in his situation that would warrant an exception.

But Gration ignores these warnings and continues to use his personal email account.

The department then initiates disciplinary proceedings against him for this and several other infractions, but he resigns in August 2012, just weeks before any disciplinary measures are due to be imposed.

However, even though Clinton uses only a private email account for all her emailed work matters, she is not warned or disciplined like Gration. Furthermore, Clinton doesn’t change her email habits after the measures taken against Gration’s email habits are reported internally and in the press.  (US Department of State, 5/25/2016) (US Department of State, 3/5/2015) (The New Republic, 6/20/2012)

June 2, 2011: Chinese hackers are targeting Gmail accounts of senior US officials, but top Clinton aides keep using Gmail account for work.

The Google Gmail logo (Credit: Google)

The Google Gmail logo (Credit: Google)

Google Inc. publicly announces that hackers based in China are targeting the email accounts of senior US officials and hundreds of other prominent people. The attacks are on users of Google’s Gmail email service. If successful, the hackers are able to read the emails of their targets. (The Wall Street Journal, 6/2/2011) 

Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills conducts government work through her Gmail account. Philippe Reines, Clinton’s senior advisor and press secretary, has a government account and a Gmail account, and uses both for work. However, there’s no evidence Mills or Reines stops using Gmail for work after this news report. (Judicial Watch, 9/14/2015) (Politico, 10/5/2015) 

Furthermore, two days later, Mills indicates in an email that there was an attempt to hack her email: “As someone who attempted to be hacked (yes I was one)…” (CBS News, 9/30/2015

Later in the month, the State Department will issue a warning to all employees not to use private emails for work, but apparently Mills and Reines still won’t stop using their Gmail accounts for work. (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016)

July 14, 2011: Blumenthal tells Clinton about a company he’s invested in helping Libya’s rebels when he would need Clinton’s approval.

Major General David Grange (Credit: Osprey Global Solutions)

Major General David Grange (Credit: Osprey Global Solutions)

Libya is in the middle of a civil war which lasts most of 2011. Sid Blumenthal emails Clinton about a security company called Osprey Global Solutions, headed by retired Army Major General David Grange. Blumenthal tells Clinton about Osprey’s attempt to get a contract to give “field medical help, military training, organize supplies and logistics” to Libyan rebels currently fighting Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi.

He adds, “Grange can train their forces and he has drawn up a plan for taking [the Libyan capitol of] Tripoli… This is a private contract. It does not involve NATO. It puts Americans in a central role without being direct battle combatants. The TNC [the rebel Transitional National Council] wants to demonstrate that they are pro-US. They see this as a significant way to do that. They are enthusiastic about this arrangement.” Furthermore, “Tyler, Cody, and I acted as honest brokers, putting this arrangement together through a series of connections, linking the Libyans to Osprey and keeping it moving.”

Blumenthal is a private citizen, journalist, and Clinton Foundation employee at the time. “Tyler” is Tyler Drumheller, who worked for the CIA until 2005. “Cody” is Cody Shearer, a longtime friend of Clintons. Blumenthal, Drumheller, and Shearer formed a business relationship to help Osprey. Clinton’s State Department would have to give its approval to a deal between this company and the Libyan rebels. (Yahoo, 10/8/2015) (US Department of State, 1/7/2016)

July 26, 2011: Clinton jokes about Chinese hackers but doesn’t take steps to combat the hacking.

Clinton types on her phone during a visit to Brasilia, Brazil, in April, 2012. (Credit: CNN)

Clinton types on her phone during a visit to Brasilia, Brazil, in April, 2012. (Credit: CNN)

In June 2011, Google Inc. publicly warned that hackers based in China were targeting the Gmail email accounts of senior US officials. (The Wall Street Journal, 6/2/2011) On this day, Clinton shows awareness of the problem through a joke.

Another State Department official sends Clinton an email, and some confusion results about the official’s two email accounts.

Clinton writes, “I just checked and I do have your state but not your Gmail – so how did that happen. Must be the Chinese!” (US Department of State, 9/3/2015)  

After that official says “You’ve always emailed me on my State email,” Clinton jokes again, “Weird since my address book only has your Gmail. Maybe the Chinese hacked it and focused on you!”  (US Department of State, 10/30/2015)

But despite this awareness,But despite this awareness, and a State Department warning not to use any private email addresses due to the problem that was sent out in Clinton’s name, Clinton apparently fails to make any changes to her own private email use and security set-up. (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016)

August 30, 2011: Clinton again decides not to use the government email address already provided her.

Hurricane Irene on August 27, 2011 at 10:10 a.m. EDT (Credit: NASA)

Hurricane Irene on August 27, 2011 at 10:10 a.m. EDT (Credit: NASA)

Clinton’s private BlackBerry temporarily stops working, due to disruptions in the New York area following Hurricane Irene, and some State Department officials are talking about what to do to fix the problem.

John Bentel, director of the department’s Information Resources Management (IRM) office, notes in an email sent to department official Monica Hanley that a government email address was set up for Clinton when she became secretary of state: SSHRC@state.gov. He points out, “you should be aware that any email would go through the Department’s infrastructure and subject to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] searches.”

However, Clinton has never used the account, and she still chooses not to use it. Instead, this account is only used by Clinton’s staff to maintain an Outlook calendar.

Bentel notes there are some old emails associated with the account, but none since January 2011, and they could be deleted.

Hanley forwards the email to Clinton’s deputy secretary of state Huma Abedin, but if here’s any email reply from her or Clinton, it’s unknown. (US Department of State, 5/25/2016)  (US Department of State, 6/20/2016)

September 23, 2011: According to a State Department official, Clinton engages in Middle East negotiations using her unsecure BlackBerry.

Catherine Ashton (Credit: European Parliament)

Catherine Ashton (Credit: European Parliament)

On this day, Clinton, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton meet in United Nations headquarters in New York City. The four of them work out a joint statement regarding an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan proposed by President Obama.

In a 2013 speech, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will discuss what happens between Clinton and Ashton: “They sat there as they were having the meeting with their BlackBerrys transferring language back and forth between them and between their aides to multitask in quite a new fashion.” Sherman will comment that, “Things appear on your BlackBerrys that would never be on an unclassified system, but you’re out traveling, you’re trying to negotiate something, you want to communicate with people – it’s the fastest way to do it.” (The Hill, 1/26/2016) (United Nations, 9/23/2011)