Hillary Clinton insists that her unsecured e-mail server never got penetrated by foreign intelligence services, but the FBI isn’t convinced. Bloomberg’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin hear from intelligence and Congressional sources that their investigators have begun to “scour” the server for traces of espionage. After all, no one thought to even encrypt the server’s communications for the first few months of its operation, and could every hostile (or even friendly) intelligence service have missed that opportunity?
The FBI has begun a probe into whether foreign intelligence services compromised Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server during and after her tenure as secretary of state, according to U.S. intelligence and Congressional officials.
The damage assessment, which is part of the bureau’s investigation into whether the former secretary and her staff mishandled classified information, will hunt for digital traces of cyber-espionage by foreign governments. Even mundane and unclassified Clinton e-mails could provide important insights into the inner workings of the U.S. government and the actions of its top officials.
Clinton herself has dismissed the prospect that her e-mails were hacked. Speaking in March, she said the system used for the private e-mail “was set up for President Clinton’s office. And it had numerous safeguards. It was on property guarded by the Secret Service. And there were no security breaches.”
U.S. officials familiar with the probe tell us the FBI is not so sure. These sources say the damage assessment will be conducted by the FBI’s own spy hunters and cyber security experts. The FBI will not hand off the task to the National Counterintelligence & Security Center, the office inside the intelligence community that coordinates counter-intelligence activities. It is conducting the damage assessment of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s 2013 leak to journalists.
This suggests that the FBI has successfully restored at least some of the data off of the server’s hard drives. Hillary Clinton and her team acknowledged months ago that the server had been wiped after they sorted through the e-mails and produced less than half for the State Department to review. That was before Hillary tried to play dumb at a press conference and claim not to know what “wipe” meant.
Perhaps it wasn’t that much of an act. If the FBI can reconstruct the server records to determine access to the machine from the hard drive, the e-mail records should be easier to restore. They expressed optimism about the ability to recover that data two weeks ago, so perhaps they’ve already done that and moved on to analyzing the records. It would not surprise anyone to find out that Hillary’s team turned out to be just as inept at server wiping as they proved to be with securing records in the first place.
The Daily Beast’s John Schindler hears from his sources in intelligence that the FBI’s aggressive investigation should have the White House worried as well:
Hillary Clinton was far from the only senior Obama appointee to play fast and loose with classified materials, according to Intelligence Community insiders. While most counterspies agree that Hillary’s practices—especially using her own server and having her staffers place classified information into unclassified emails, in violation of Federal law—were especially egregious, any broad-brush investigation into security matters are likely to turn up other suspects, they maintain.
“The whole administration is filled with people who can’t shoot straight when it comes to classified,” an Intelligence Community official explained to me this week. Three U.S. officials suggested that Susan Rice, the National Security Adviser, might be at particular risk if a classified information probe goes wide. But it should be noted that Rice has made all sorts of enemies on the security establishment for her prickly demeanor, use of coarse language, and strategic missteps.
As Schindler has noted before, the intelligence community is especially incensed over this scandal:
Although it will be months before intelligence agencies have reviewed all Clinton emails, counterintelligence officials expect that the true number of classified emails on Hillary’s servers is at least many hundreds and perhaps thousands, based on the samplings seen to date.
Excuses that most of the classified emails examined to date are considered Confidential, which is the lowest level, cut no ice with many insiders. Although the compromise of information at that level is less damaging than the loss of Secret—or worse Top Secret—information, it is still a crime that’s taken seriously by counterintelligence professionals. Most of the classified that Hillary and her staff seem to have compromised dealt with diplomatic discussions, which is a grave indiscretion as far as diplomats worldwide are concerned.
“Of course they knew what they were doing, it’s a clear as day from the emails,” opined one senior official who is close to the investigation. “I’m a Democrat and this makes me sick. They were fully aware of what they were up to, and the Bureau knows it.” That Hillary and her staff at Foggy Bottom were wittingly involved in a scheme to place classified information into ostensibly unclassified emails to reside on Clinton’s personal, private server is the belief of every investigator and counterintelligence official I’ve spoken with recently, and all were at pains to maintain that this misconduct was felonious.
Lake and Rogin note that high-ranking officials are not often prosecuted for these crimes. The issuance of a subpoena to a Clinton aide might mean that the FBI and Congress are not likely to just let this go this time, though.
Update: If this Radar item is legit — and with Radar, that’s a dice roll — then the FBI may not need to look far to find evidence of a hack:
Just as email-gate looked to be winding down, RadarOnline.com has exclusively learned a person claiming to be a computer specialist has come forward with the stunning news that 32,000 emails from HillaryClinton‘s private email account are up for sale. The price tag — a whopping $500,000! …
Radar has learned that some of the topics discussed in the email appear to include everything from Benghazi to the Algerian hostage crisis — with subject lines such as:
“H Libya security latest. Sid” (with attachment)
“H FYI, best analysis so far of hearing Sid,’ about the latest security
“H Algeria latest French Intel on Algeria hostage Sid”
“H Latest French Intel in Algeria hostage Sid” (with attachment)
“H Latest Libya intel internal govt discussions high level” (with
“H HIGHLY IMPORTANT! Comprehensive Intel Report on (with attachment)”
I’d take this one with a Lot’s Wife-sized grain of salt. But I’d guess the FBI will be looking into this, along with the Scouring of the Server.
Update: Commenter Mike Honcho asks, “if the server were truly wiped clean wouldn’t it be impossible to determine if espionage (or more specifically an intrusion) occurred?” That was what I meant when I said this suggests that the wipe didn’t succeed. Investigators could be looking at ISP records for this data, too … but they wouldn’t need the server for that. If they’re scouring the server for this data, it means they restored at least part of the hard drive.