Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a Women for Hillary fundraiser at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. Andrew Harnik AP
By Tim Johnson
Contrary to views collected by the FBI that Hillary Clinton was a technophobe unsophisticated in the use of computers, her paid speeches indicate that she was well aware of the dangers of computer hacking and penetration and that diplomats would be “totally vulnerable” without extreme precautions.
Excerpts from Clinton’s speeches, which she refused to release during her hard fought primary campaign against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, were among some 2,050 private emails published Friday by the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks, after what the Obama administration says was a Russian intrusion that obtained the data.
The Clinton campaign has declined to vouch for the authenticity of the leaked emails and has suggested they might be fake, though the emails apparently were pirated during the same hacking effort that captured emails whose publication led to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in July.
One of the newly released emails includes transcripts of numerous private remarks Clinton made in recent years about the dangers of being a victim of hacking and the backwardness of the State Department bureaucracy in adopting new technology.
Clinton noted with concern that America’s global rivals, particularly Russia and China, constantly sought to penetrate the communications of U.S. diplomats while she served as secretary of state.
“Every time I went to countries like China or Russia, I mean, we couldn’t take our computers, we couldn’t take our personal devices, we couldn’t take anything off the plane because they’re so good, they would penetrate them in a minute, less, a nanosecond. So we would take the batteries out, we’d leave them on the plane,” Clinton said in Aug. 28, 2014, remarks.
The private comment apparently came in a talk she gave to a software storage company, Nexenta, and was included in an email from Tony Carrk, research director at Hillary for America, to other campaign staffers with the message line “HRC paid speeches.”
They would penetrate them in a minute, less, a nanosecond. Hillary Clinton speech, Aug. 28, 2014
Carrk noted that the New York speakers bureau that arranged Clinton’s paid speaking engagements, Harry Walker Agency, had flagged excerpts from various speeches as worthy of campaign attention.
In that speech and in others, Clinton cast herself as knowledgeable about technology, even a paladin of sorts to bring change to the federal government, and hyper aware of global cyber threats.
The excerpts contrast sharply with the portrait of Clinton drawn in documents released by the FBI of its investigation into her use of private email servers while she was secretary of state.
One of those documents quotes Clinton’s senior aide, Cheryl Mills, telling the FBI that on taking the State post in January 2009, “Clinton was not computer savvy and thus was not accustomed to using a computer, so efforts were made to try to figure out a system that would allow Clinton to operate as she did before (the State Department).” The document said Clinton did not even have a computer in her seventh-floor State Department office.
At a congressional hearing July 7, two days after the FBI announced it would not seek prosecution of Clinton for sending and receiving classified email on the private system, James Comey, the FBI’s director, portrayed Clinton as less-than-sophisticated about classification levels of federal cables that she handled on her computer.
In one exchange with Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Florida Republican, Comey demurred when presented with a description of Clinton as sophisticated in her knowledge of classified information.
“Well, I want to take one of your assumptions about sophistication. I don’t think that our investigation established she was actually particularly sophisticated with respect to classified information and the levels and treatment,” Comey said.
Comey earlier had said Clinton and those around her were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” and that the culture at the State Department was “generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.”
After leaving the State job, Clinton’s speech excerpts indicate that she had grown very aware of digital intrusions. She told attendees at a Goldman Sachs event on Oct. 29, 2013, that when she traveled to China and Russia, it was common practice to remove batteries from cellular phones and computers and keep the devices locked up on her airplane.
“We didn’t do that because we thought it would be fun to tell somebody about. We did it because we knew that we were all targets and that we would be totally vulnerable,” Clinton said.
We did it because we knew that we were all targets and that we would be totally vulnerable. Hillary Clinton at a Goldman Sachs event, Oct. 29, 2013
At another event, Clinton said she pushed a backward bureaucracy into the modern era in terms of usage of modern communications.
“You know, when Colin Powell showed up as secretary of State in 2001, most State Department employees still didn’t even have computers on their desks. When I got there they were not mostly permitted to have hand-held devices. I mean, so you’re thinking how do we operate in this new environment dominated by technology, globalizing forces? We have to change, and I can’t expect people to change if I don’t try to model it and lead it,” Clinton said Jan. 6, 2014, at an event in Boca Raton, Florida, sponsored by General Electric.
It was a theme that Clinton hit on repeatedly in her paid speeches.
“You know, people were not even allowed to use mobile devices because of security issues and cost issues, and we really had to try to push into the last part of the 20th Century in order to get people functioning in 2009 and ’10,” Clinton said at the Oct. 29, 2014, Goldman Sachs event.
The federal government “is woefully, woefully behind in all of its policies that affect the use of technology,” Clinton said in her remarks to Nexenta in 2014.
“When I got to the State Department, it was still against the rules to let most – or let all Foreign Service Officers have access to a Blackberry. You couldn’t have desktop computers when Colin Powell was there. Everything that you are taking advantage of, inventing and using, is still a generation or two behind when it comes to our government,” the email excerpt quotes her as saying.
Everything that you are taking advantage of, inventing and using, is still a generation or two behind when it comes to our government. Hillary Clinton in Aug. 28, 2014, speech
Clinton brought up the multiple dangers in the digital domain in an April 23, 2014, event that she offered at the University of Connecticut, for which she was paid $251,000.
Unlike China and Russia, Clinton said, the United States maintains checks and balances on digital security and when hacks lead to the loss of government files, secrets can fall into the hands of “networks and terrorists and the like.” Then she alluded to Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who in 2013 divulged details of a massive U.S. spying program, later seeking exile in Russia under the protection of President Vladimir Putin.
“So I have a hard time thinking that somebody who is a champion of privacy and liberty has taken refuge in Russia under Putin’s authority. And then he calls into a Putin talk show and says, President Putin, do you spy on people? And President Putin says, well, from one intelligence professional to another, of course not. Oh, thank you so much. I mean, really, I don’t know. I have a hard time following it,” Clinton said.