Colin Powell's Email To Clinton About Personal Devices Shows Routing Around FOIA Is Business As Usual

from the the-public:-worst-thing-to-happen-to-gov't-since-ever dept

Briefly noted in an earlier article about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s personal email server was the existence of communications that pointed towards FOIA-dodging as a possible factor in her decision to set this up.

Emails released earlier had hinted at this. The FBI’s investigation documents contained part of an email from Colin Powell warning her that if it became public Clinton was using a personal BlackBerry, any communications on that device could become subject to FOIA requests. Powell also pointed out that he had routed around this during his years at the State Department by “not saying much” and “not using systems that captured the data.”

So, it’s not as though government officials need much help from people like Matt Yglesias in keeping more communications related to government work hidden from the public. They’ve always had plenty of options and appear to be keenly aware of which systems feed into FOIA-able areas.

The full email has now been released (h/t Rebecca Shabad and Steve Ragan) and the contents make it clear Powell had ways of routing around FOIA requirements while heading up the State Department. This appears to be the information Clinton was seeking — how to avoid having to use the systems the State Department already had or being blocked from using her personal BlackBerry while in office.

Clinton had noticed Powell used a personal BlackBerry and wanted to know what restrictions he ran into and whether he was allowed to use it while “on site” during his tenure as Secretary of State. She added that she was trying to “bring along” the State Department, presumably towards the private email server/personal device future Clinton envisioned.

Powell’s response begins with him pointing out he didn’t use a Blackberry for stuff he wanted to keep off the FOIA radar. He used his own computer.

I didn’t have a BlackBerry. What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient.) So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers. I even used it to do business with some foreign leaders and some of the senior folks in the Department on their personal email accounts.

On one hand, Powell wanted to keep some communications (those with “friends”) private, which is understandable. On the other, he clearly states he conducted official business with his private device — including communications with other State Department officials, who were using their own personal email accounts.

It’s not just a Powell thing or a Clinton thing. It’s a government thing. Many government officials utilize personal devices and accounts. Many of them get away with it. Many government officials say nice things about transparency, too — all the while creating a stockpile of “public” documents the public never gets a chance to see, much less know exists.

The full statement — which was partially quoted in the FBI investigation documents — shows routing around FOIA requirements, record preservation policies, and government accountability ideals comes as naturally to government officials as board of directors’ positions at favored corporations following retirement from the public sector. After discussing the issues he had with State Department security, the NSA, CIA, etc. about the supposed threat personal devices posed to government security, Powell notes the real threat is… the public.

However, there is a real danger. If it is public that you have a BlackBerry and it it government and you are using it, government or not, to do business, it may become an official record and subject to the law. Reading about the President’s BB rules this morning, it sounds like it won’t be as useful as it used to be. Be very careful. I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.

Powell has since defended this email by saying he wasn’t attempting to influence her on how to handle potentially FOIA-able communications while running the State Department. Powell backs up this assertion by pointing out Hillary Clinton said his email didn’t influence her decision to use private email accounts, private devices, and a private server to handle State Department communications. So, I guess that’s all wrapped up and nothing more to see here. [eyeroll]

It’s impossible to tell if this conversation was supposed to evade FOIA requirements as well. Powell’s email address is redacted, but Clinton’s is still exposed. As of the date this was sent (February 2009), Clinton had been a Senator for nearly a decade. The email account used, however, was an AT&T address linked to her personal BlackBerry — which would suggest personal devices/email accounts had been standard operating procedure for quite some time.

Also of note is this fact — pointed out by one-man FOIA wrecking crew Jason Leopold: this “new” revelation of Powell’s “How To Beat the State Department and the Public at Their Own Transparency Game” advice is actually about three years old. Apparently, Powell detailed his accountability-skirting measures in his 2012 book titled (no shit) “It Worked for Me.”

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Comments on “Colin Powell's Email To Clinton About Personal Devices Shows Routing Around FOIA Is Business As Usual”

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McFortner (profile) says:

"Everybody does it...."

The problem is that everybody uses “Everybody does it” as an excuse. Not getting the ball rolling and start prosecuting and punishing those who do because it’s “not fair” that somebody is the punished when others have been doing the same thing is stupid. Rules need to be followed and justice has to begin somewhere. Somebody has to be the first as long as they are not the only one. Rules need to be followed and justice has to begin somewhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Everybody does it...."

It was all well and good as long as it was just the good ole boys doing it. But the minute a woman does it, let’s start the quest for justice with her. No one’s talking about investigating Colin Powell, or any of the Bushes for their private email use while in office. Though to be fair, I don’t think any of them would know how….and be proud of the fact!

AJ says:

Re: Re: "Everybody does it...."

“It was all well and good as long as it was just the good ole boys doing it. But the minute a woman does it, let’s start the quest for justice with her.”

Condoleezza Rice is a woman too genius.

This one explains it best, but you can read others if you want. From what I can gather; Powell and Rice did not break the law in what they did. They both had an executive order allowing them to classify and declassify department material as they saw fit, and the information that was deemed classified externally wasn’t routed to their personal email accounts (or not proven too).

“Plus, both Powell and Rice had the authority, granted by President George W. Bush through executive order, to classify and declassify any document created by the State Department. So if either of them had received an email from another agency containing information that had not gone through a SCIF, he or she could have independently declared that it did not need to be secret and sent it along to anyone they chose.In other words, just because the FOIA staff years later labeled emails sent from Powell and Rice’s aides as classified does not mean those records contain some crown jewels of critical intelligence. In fact, usually they are quite benign. I have seen emails called “top secret” that contained nothing more than a forwarded news article that had been published. (The Associated Press has reported that one of Clinton’s “secret” emails contains an AP article.)”

From what I understand; It doesn’t appear against the law for them to have a personal email account, or their own server. What is against the law is routing material that was classified at the time through it.

BUT! If they find Rice or Powell broke the law, toss their asses in jail too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Everybody does it...."

There is certainly a dark irony in the extreme amount of double standards and careless illegal actions they make.

To weigh in a bit on the other side: FOIA has made government institutions jump on their tungues and circumnavigate the globe to avoid it, making a case for closing the hole a bit but introduce sanctions on the perpetrators.
Also, much more scary about the situation is the crap they are working with in government. Their machines are pre-stoneage and we are to trust their work? No wonder they are so extremely slow at doing anything…

Skeeter says:

Define Sedition

If you look up the definition of ‘SEDITION’, this pretty-much is a poster-child for it.

SEDITION: the crime of saying, writing, or doing something that encourages people to disobey their government
(thank you, Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Now, if Sedition is punishable by death during times of war, and life imprisonment during times of peace, why are these people still walking around?

I didn’t make these laws, they did, and yet they work to go around them, while they would convict you or I for what they are determined to do.

There’s a doubled-edged blade involved with the acts of Treason and Sedition – poor and privileged alike, everyone is at risk when they go down those dark hallways.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Typical Lying Democrats

Poe’s Law crosses the satire event horizon where Trump is concerned. As comedian Lewis Black said after watching the Trump/Palin meeting of the minds:

>“And I thought, um, how am I supposed to make this funnier? What is my job now? How do you satirize what is already satiric?” Black asked. “This was the point in time, as far as I’m concerned, where we the American people reached the point where reality and satire finally intersected. That’s it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Typical Lying Democrats

Roosewelts platform was to the left of Bernie Sanders.

Eisenhower was supporter of 3 R’s: Relief to the unemployed and poor, recovery of the economy and reform of the financial service to prevent a new great depression.

Nixon was father to EPA, a huge economic depression in USA, the Vietnam war and Watergate.

After that republicans seems to have gone from conservative towards unworkable regressive talking-points. Not only wanting to change to keep things as they are, but turning back to a lost time on many issues. The abortion issue, environmental issues, foreign policy issues, gay right issues and drugs.

Trump has basically taken some of the most unworkable parts of the more modern conservative/regressive ideas, made them even more ridiculous than before and added a great deal of self-aggrandisement.

Apparently the selling point of not Obama/Clinton is so strong that the opposing candidate can almost win on that alone!

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