Good news: The Russians were reading Obama’s emails

This administration has a problem with information security, and it’s becoming clear that their carelessness is a threat to American national security.

On Saturday night, The New York Times revealed new details about a violation of the White House’s cybersecurity. Last autumn, the State Department experienced what sources within the agency called its “worst ever” cyber-attack, an event so sophisticated that many believe it was executed by assets linked to the Russian government. The attack proved so debilitating that diplomats negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program were compelled to use personal email accounts in order to stay in contact with each other and with reporters. According to The Times, those Russian cyber-intelligence operatives also managed to compromise the network used by an even more valuable target: The President of the United States.

The Times report noted that the White House’s compromised unclassified system operates independently of the classified network, so it is unlikely that the Russians might have gained access to secret intelligence as a result of this breach. This was the contention made by those close to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, too, when it was revealed that the Russians had invaded the email networks at Foggy Bottom. But just because this network is unclassified doesn’t mean that potentially sensitive intelligence was never shared over emails.

The Times report indicated that officials acknowledge that the information accessed by Russian sources was probably of great value to Moscow. “[O]fficials have conceded that the unclassified system routinely contains much information that is considered highly sensitive: schedules, email exchanges with ambassadors and diplomats, discussions of pending personnel moves and legislation, and, inevitably, some debate about policy,” The Times report read.

Officials did not disclose the number of Mr. Obama’s emails that were harvested by hackers, nor the sensitivity of their content. The president’s email account itself does not appear to have been hacked. Aides say that most of Mr. Obama’s classified briefings — such as the morning Presidential Daily Brief — are delivered orally or on paper (sometimes supplemented by an iPad system connected to classified networks) and that they are usually confined to the Oval Office or the Situation Room.

Still, the fact that Mr. Obama’s communications were among those hit by the hackers — who are presumed to be linked to the Russian government, if not working for it — has been one of the most closely held findings of the inquiry. Senior White House officials have known for months about the depth of the intrusion.

Without an extensive investigation, there is no telling how the Russians might have used to their advantage knowledge of internal policy debates in the White House and which policy makers had the president’s attention. There is also a political component to these revelations, and it is going to be a vexing one for Clinton.

First, as though it could be any more tarnished, this episode underscores how strategically flawed the “reset” in relations with Russia truly was. This revelation also underscores how careless and selfish it was for Clinton to have used a personal email network as a top Cabinet official in order to maintain her cherished sense of privacy. The White House has separate classified and unclassified email networks, but Clinton didn’t. Indeed, the former secretary just asks you to take her word for it that “there is no classified material.” Channeling the childlike credulity required to believe the secretary’s contention is a high hurdle to overcome.

This episode serves to remind the country that the former secretary of state likely jeopardized American diplomatic security in order to preserve the conveniences to which she had become accustomed as a U.S. senator. Later, amid a Congressional inquiry into her tenure at State, Clinton destroyed many of her electronic communications so that the public will never be aware of how her email network might have been compromised.

That’s some resume stuffer. This breach of U.S. intelligence indicates how ill-equipped the former secretary is to manage American affairs or to address the menace posed by the greatest state-based threat to U.S. national security.