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)