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.”