December 2010: Pagliano gets help from other State Department staffers to fix a communication problem involving Clinton’s private server.

Clinton’s computer technician Bryan Pagliano is working with staff from the State Department’s Information Resources Management (IRM) office to resolve issues affecting the ability of emails sent from Clinton’s private server to be received at department .gov email addresses. Pagliano shows some staffers the computer logs from the server. The issue is eventually resolved. On December 21, 2010, IRM staff send an email to Clinton’s top aides describing the issue and summarizing what was done to resolve it. This appears to be one of the few times Clinton’s server is discussed with other department employees. (US Department of State, 5/25/2016)

March 2016: The FBI warns the Clinton campaign that it is a target of a hacker attack, but the campaign doesn’t assist the FBI.

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The Clinton campaign logo superimposed over the FBI logo. (Credit: public domain)

This is according to what two unnamed “sources who have been briefed on the matter” will tell Yahoo News in July 2016. FBI officials privately meet with senior Clinton campaign officials and express concern that hackers are using “spear phishing” techniques to access the campaign’s computers. They ask the campaign to turn over internal computer logs and the personal email addresses of top campaign staffers to help the FBI’s investigation. But the campaign declines to do so after deciding the request for personal data is too broad and intrusive. The FBI doesn’t give any mention as to who the hackers might be.

One month later, the campaign will learn on its own that its computers have been hacked and they will use a private cybersecurity company to combat the hackers.

Yahoo News will comment that the FBI’s “warning also could raise new questions about why the campaign and the DNC didn’t take the matter more seriously.”

At the time, the FBI has an active investigation into Clinton’s email usage while she was secretary of state, and Clinton’s campaign isn’t sure how extensive that inquiry is. There have been media reports that the investigation extended into unethical practices at the Clinton Foundation, which could theoretically include interest in more recent communications.

Yahoo News will report that, according to an unnamed internal source, “Campaign officials had reason to fear that any production of campaign computer logs and personal email accounts could be used to further such a probe.” But the FBI insists that its request for data to combat the hacking has no connection to any other investigation, and since there is no subpoena forcing the issue, the Clinton campaign turns down the request. (Yahoo News, 7/29/2016)

September 2, 2016: The FBI was unable to confirm hackers broke into Clinton’s system, but it cites an inability to gather enough evidence to do so.

The FBI Clinton email investigation’s final report, released on this day, states, “FBI investigation and forensic analysis did not find evidence confirming that Clinton’s email server systems were compromised by cyber means.” (Elsewhere in the report, it is mentioned that one email account on the server appears to have been broken into by hackers.)

A generic sample of what an attempted hack would look like in the log data. (Credit: public domain)

But the report goes on to state, “The FBI’s inability to recover all server equipment and the lack of complete server log data for the relevant time period limited the FBI’s forensic analysis of the server systems. As a result, FBI cyber analysis relied, in large part, on witness statements, email correspondence, and related forensic content found on other devices to understand the setup, maintenance, administration, and security of the server systems.”

Elsewhere in the report, it is noted that the FBI was unable to recover any of 13 the BlackBerry mobile devices Clinton used while or shortly after her tenure as secretary of state, a laptop containing a back-up of her emails was lost, the server most recently containing her emails was wiped with BleachBit software, the server used for her first two months in office was also lost, hard drive back-ups made were also lost, and so on.  (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

At the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation on July 5, 2016, FBI Director James Comey said there was no “direct evidence” Clinton’s email account had been successfully hacked. But the next day, the New York Times reported, “both private experts and federal investigators immediately understood his meaning: It very likely had been breached, but the intruders were far too skilled to leave evidence of their work.”