‘I could talk to foreign leaders bypassing State Dept’: Powell to Clinton on private email use

Former US Secretaries of State Colin Powell (L) and Hillary Clinton © Jim Watson
Colin Powell advised Hillary Clinton, his successor as US Secretary of State, to use a private email “without going through State Department servers” and avoid basic security rules he described as “nonsense,” their seven-year-old exchange reveals.

The complete email exchange between Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton – full of stunning details – was released late Wednesday by Elijah Cummings, top Democrat of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“I hope to catch up soon [with] you, but I have one pressing question which only you can answer! What were the restrictions on your use of your blackberry?” Clinton asked Powell in her first email sent two days after she took office in 2009.

Clinton apparently wanted to keep using her BlackBerry smartphone, once famous for its encryption capabilities.

Powell, who served as Secretary of State under the George W. Bush administration, said that he did not own one, adding that he used instead an “ancient” system allowing him to reach addressees in the US and beyond, bypassing his own agency’s servers.

“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,” Powell wrote.

“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. I did the same thing on the road in hotels.”

In the next paragraphs, Powell described some of the security requirements set up by the Diplomatic Security Service as “nonsense,” sarcastically asking why mobile phones are any more vulnerable for wiretapping than a TV remote control. He then said he ended up using an “ancient version” of PDA (Personal Digital Assistant)

“In general, the suite was so sealed that it is hard to get signals in or out wirelessly,” he claimed.

The former Secretary of State and retired US Army general then warned Clinton: “However, there is a real danger. If it is public that you have a Blackberry and [the] government and you are using it, government or not, to do business, it may become an official record and subject to the law.”

“Be very careful,” he added. “I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.”

The released exchange “also illustrates the longstanding problem that no Secretary of State ever used an official unclassified email account until the current Secretary of State,” Cummings said.

It comes days after the FBI disclosed 58 pages relating to the investigation into Clinton’s use of a personal email server during her time at the State Department.

The email saga is likely to complicate Clinton’s presidential campaign, even after the agency said this week that it “did not find evidence confirming that Clinton's email accounts or mobile devices were compromised by cyber means.”