News & Politics

Hillary Clinton Tried to Change Rules so She Could Use BlackBerry in Secure Facilities

Hillary Clinton Tried to Change Rules so She Could Use BlackBerry in Secure Facilities
(Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP, File)

New documents from the State Department obtained by Judicial Watch show that Hillary Clinton wanted to change existing security protocols when she became secretary of State so she could use special “BlackBerry-like” devices in secure facilities known as a SCIFs (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) for classified information.

In an email dated February 13, 2009, Senior Coordinator for Security Infrastructure, Bureau of Diplomatic Security Donald R. Reid reveals that the request to obtain secure Blackberry technology for Clinton was denied.  When Clinton aides sought to compel the NSA’s cooperation by asking about the security arrangements for President Obama’s Blackberry, the exchange apparently became heated.  According to Reid:

[W]e began examining options for S [Secretary Clinton] with respect to secure “Blackberry-like” communications … the current state of the art is not too user friendly, has no infrastructure at State and is very expensive…each time we asked the question “What was the solution for POTUS?” we were politely told to shut up and color … NSA opened the door for us to establish requirements and they would try to help…

According to Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, the idea of using an electronic devise in a SCIF is enough to give members of the intelligence community a “heart attack” because it defeats their purpose. Yet Clinton reportedly pursued the change “aggressively.” A device like a BlackBerry “can be like a bug or an eavesdropping device,” Herridge explained to Greta Van Susteren. “And the Clinton team was warned about that.” It’s standard practice to leave all such electronic devices outside.

A cybersecurity analyst told Fox: “Anyone who has any appreciation at all of security, you don’t ask a question like that.  It is contempt for the system, contempt for the rules that are designed to protect the exact kind of information that was exposed through this email set up.“

A former State Department employee familiar with the Clinton request emphasized security personnel at the time thought the BlackBerry was only for unclassified material, adding their concerns would have been magnified if they had known Clinton’s email account also held classified material.

“When you allow devices like this into a SCIF, you can allow the bad guys to listen in,” Wright added.

A February 17, 2009 email marked SECRET and cleared through the NSA says, “Ms. Mills described the requirement as chiefly driven by Secretary Clinton, who does not use standard computer equipment but relies exclusively on her Blackberry for emailing and remaining in contact on her schedule etc. Ideally all members of her suite would be allowed to use Blackberries for communication in the SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility)”

Cheryl Mills was Clinton’s chief of staff from 2009-13.

The emails, obtained by Judicial Watch as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit also show that a specialized NSA team was brought in to assess the vulnerabilities and feasibility of using wireless communications, including within a secure facility.

The NSA State Department liaison, whose name was withheld, told Mills in a now highly redacted email:  “Sometimes the distinction between what can be done and what is, or is not, recommended to be done differ; this is one of those instances.  (State Department Diplomatic Security) DS’s response illustrates their level of concern based on their extensive professional expertise. “

Another memo from Mar‎ch 2009, obtained by Judicial Watch through its FOIA lawsuit, from Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell to Mills explicitly warned,  “the vulnerabilities and risks associated with the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row [seventh floor executive offices] considerably outweigh their convenience.”  Clinton has claimed she used the personal account and BlackBerry for convenience.

Clinton never used a State Department-issued BlackBerry. And it’s not known whether she and her staff went ahead and used their personal BlackBerrys in SCIFs despite being rebuffed.

Due to Clinton’s heavy reliance on her BlackBerry, a space was eventually created to accommodate her personal email use. ‎”There is an area dedicated to supporting the secretary outside but in the immediate vicinity of the secretary’s secure office. Secretary Clinton, as with anyone, could use such non-SCIF spaces to check personal devices,” a State Department official told Fox News.

“And of course,” Herridge noted,  “the irony of that is that the BlackBerry was the only device she was using for government business, it was not a secured device, and it was not certified as OK to use for government business.”