Judicial Watch: State Department Documents Reveal Intense Debate over Security Risk Poised by Clinton BlackBerry Use in Foggy Bottom Executive Offices
DECEMBER 18, 2015
More than 50 emails, many marked “Sensitive,” focused on security problems surrounding “Use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row”
March 2009 internal memo from Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security warned of “vulnerabilities and risks” by Clinton and staff’s use of Blackberries in executive suites
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained documents as result of a federal court order containing more than 50 State Department internal emails from 2009 and 2011 warning of serious security concerns involving the use by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff of “highly vulnerable” BlackBerrys in the executive offices of the Foggy Bottom headquarters.
The discussion included a March 2, 2009, internal memorandum from Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell entitled “Use of Blackberries on Mahogany Row,” in which he strongly advised that the devices not be allowed. According to the Boswell memo, sent to then-Secretary of State Clinton and her Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, “the vulnerabilities and risks associated with the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row [seventh floor executive offices] considerably outweigh their convenience.” Clinton has admitted she used a BlackBerry during her early days in office despite Boswell’s memo with explicit written objections.
The documents were obtained under court order in a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00646)). Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit on April 29, 2015, after the State Department failed to comply with a March 10, 2015, FOIA request seeking release of:
- Records of requests by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or her staff to the State Department Office Security Technology seeking approval for the use of an iPad or iPhone for official government business; and
- Communications within or between the Office of the Secretary of State, the Executive Secretariat, and the Office of the Secretary and the Office of Security Technology related to the use of unauthorized electronic devices for official government business.
When Boswell’s internal memo was issued on March 2, 2009, it strongly warned of the security risks involved in the use of BlackBerrys by Clinton and her staff:
INFORMATION MEMO FOR CHERYL D. MILLS – S
FROM: DS – Eric J. Boswell
SUBJECT: Use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row
Our review reaffirms our belief that the vulnerabilities and risks associated with the use of Blackberries in the Mahogany Row [REDACTED] considerably outweigh the convenience their use can add to staff that have access to the classified OpenNet system on their desktops. [RECACTED] We also worry about the example that using Blackberries in Mahogany Row might set as we strive to promote crucial security practices and enforce important security standards among State Department staff.
I cannot stress too strongly, however, that any unclassified Blackberry is highly vulnerable in any setting to remotely and covertly monitoring conversations, retrieving e-mails, and exploiting calendars.
Leaving no doubt that Clinton was fully aware of the deep security concerns surrounding the BlackBerry security issue early on, a March 11, 2009, email reads, “After this mornings ‘management meeting’ with the A/Secys, Secretary Clinton approached Ambassador Boswell [United States Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security] and mentioned that she had read the IM and that she ‘gets it.’ Her attention was drawn to the sentence that indicates we (DS) have intelligence concerning the vulnerability during her recent trip to Asia.” [Emphasis in original]
The internal State Department debate over the use by Clinton and her staff of “Electronic Devices on the 7th Floor” emerges again in a February 9, 2011, email from an unidentified source to State Department Director of the Office of Physical Security Programs Gentry Smith and Senior Coordinator for Security Infrastructure, Bureau of Diplomatic Security Donald Reid, in which the source advised: “I wanted to share with you, back channel, a little insight into current thinking in the Secretary’s inner circle on technology issues…” That same day, Reid responded by acknowledging the “vulnerabilities of portable devices” and saying he would expand the discussion to include Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills who wanted “to correct urban myths… re other agencies.” Reid did not clarify what “urban myths” Mills apparently wanted to clear up.
On March 2, 2011 Reid writes: “We have a DS Memo to S re malicious cyber activity directed toward Dept seniors that is circulating in final clearance….”
“These new State Department emails are devastating. The emails show Hillary Clinton knew about but ignored national security warnings concerning the use of BlackBerrys and other unsecure computing systems,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “These new emails ought to be of interest to the FBI and federal prosecutors, as the emails show that her mishandling of classified information and violations of federal records laws was far from innocent.”