August 2008: State Department rules prohibit the way some sensitive information will later be used on Clinton’s private server.

According to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), department employees are allowed to send most Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information unencrypted over the Internet only when necessary.

In August 2008, the FAM is amended to further toughen the rules on sending SBU information on non-department-owned systems at non-departmental facilities – such as Clinton’s later use of a private email server. Employees have to:

  • ensure that SBU information is encrypted
  • destroy SBU information on their personally owned and managed computers and removable media when the files are no longer required
  • implement encryption certified by the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST)

The FBI will later determine that SBU information was frequently and knowingly sent to and from Clinton’s private server, but none of these steps were taken. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Mid-August 2008: The Chinese government apparently hacks into the 2008 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain.

Admiral Dennis Blair (Credit: Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA)

Admiral Dennis Blair (Credit: Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA)

Hacking teams traced back to China are caught breaking into the computers of the Obama and McCain campaigns, resulting in high-level warnings to Chinese officials to stop. The computers, laptops, and mobile devices of top campaign aides and advisers who receive high-level briefings are particularly targeted. “Spear phishing” is used to get targets to open an attachment containing a virus that would allow data to be stolen from their computer.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe will later say he got a call in the middle of August 2008 alerting him to the attack and that the FBI was investigating. However, the virus is extremely sophisticated, and it takes months for it to be completely removed from the networks of the two campaigns.

In a May 2009 speech, President Obama will make a general mention of the attacks: “Hackers gained access to emails and a range of campaign files, from policy position papers to travel plans.” However, the involvement of China’s government won’t be publicly revealed until June 2013.

Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence from 2009 to 2010, will comment that year, “Based on everything I know, this was a case of political cyberespionage by the Chinese government against the two American political parties. They were looking for positions on China, surprises that might be rolled out by campaigns against China.” (NBC News, 6/6/2013)