Okay.  I don’t want this piece to be a defense of Hillary Clinton’s “handling” of State Department e-mails on her Chappaqua, NY, basement server that has caused so much kerfuffle among the press literati across the “biased for Clinton liberal news media,” No. This is not my intent.  But as an opening gambit, let me say right off that I fully understand both her and Colin Powell’s decision to keep non-classified e-mail communications away from the State Department’s classified computer system.  I can tell you from my personal experience that pretty much everyone I’ve ever dealt with at the State Department used the secure, official system only when absolutely, totally and fully necessary. 

But first: Full Disclosure!  I’ve met both Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton.  Powell, once at a State Department reception (he was personable, charming and funny!).  Clinton: a couple of times standing on the edge of Sidwell Friends School grassy field where her daughter and mine were playing field hockey and once during a Parent’s Night at the aforementioned school.  She was reserved, pretty much kept to herself in all three instances, but gracious when approached for all that. 

But I digress.  When the Clinton home e-mail server was revealed back – What? A year ago although it seems like a decade now we’ve heard so much and so often about it – I actually laughed.  Me?  While I did think that it was unusual that a Secretary of State (until Powell’s admission) would set up an e-mail system entirely removed from the State Department, I wasn’t all that surprised.  Not surprised, that is, based on my own experience of two decades in dealing with State’s slow, messy, crashy and archaic computer system. 

Let me start with an admission:  My firm was cited by the State Department for a security breach.  In truth, the actual breach itself was the transmission of a site plan from one of our consultants, the Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing firm to be precise, from their office to one of my guys in our office.  It was not transmitted to us via our secure server, but through a commercial e-mail account.  As per protocol and common sense, the guy who actually received the offending e-mail, notified me immediately.  And since I was the office Security Officer I immediately notified our overlords at State of the breach. 

As you can imagine, I was not pleased with this situation particularly after more than a decade back then of working with the State Department renovating overseas facilities and designing new ones. (This timeline would eventually stretch to over two decades.)  We had invested somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 in new computers, security equipment, special code locks on the doors, beefed up bars on the windows, special logon procedures, special storage devices and a whole lot of other stuff to protect classified documents and transmissions.  And these douchebag consultants, who had the same requirements and training that we had, sent us a classified document via Microsoft Office.  But there you go. 

Here’s what happened.  We quarantined the offending transmission, took a hard copy to a meeting with a couple of State’s security experts as well as our program handlers, we discussed what had happened, they looked over the offending document and the train of evidence, and they determined that although there had been a breach, there had been no release of classified information to the outside world.  And that was the end of the incident.  I am pleased that in two decades of handling classified info (all plans we produced were classified and they number in the tens of thousands of sheets) we suffered only one security breach (and I will point out again – not because of us) which to me, is a record to be pretty damned proud of.  Maybe my monthly security training session with the staff actually did some good.

But let’s move on to the whole e-mail stuff.  Again, I base my writings here on my personal experience.  I’ll begin with an incident that happened in Kabul, Afghanistan, on one of my many trips there since my firm designed the New U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the staff housing and a number of other facilities on the U.S. Embassy compound.  (This was not the time that a well-aimed RPG demolished the radio-TV station across the street from the compound and about 75 yards from the hutch I was occupying at the time.)  I had asked one of the Department’s architects for the revised plan for the compound.  The new ambassador had cut down all the trees that lined the front of the compound that we had worked tirelessly with the former ambassador to save, but ultimately to no avail.)  Some parts of the compound’s configuration had changed as a result.  Well, as I settled myself into a chair next to him watching his computer screen while he rooted around looking for the site plan, what popped up on the screen was a nude pic of his girlfriend.  I mean, not bad looking but it wasn’t something that I was expecting.  He was, needless to say, red-faced and embarrassed.  Now this was an anomaly in State staff’s handling of classified documents, at least in my experience.   But I wasn’t all that much surprised. 

In my 20 years of working with these folks, I think the most often voiced criticism of their daily work was the State Department’s computer system.  Sure, when they transmitted documents or papers or thoughts that were clearly in the realm of “not to be revealed” info, classified in other words, they hewed to the rules and regulations for such documents and e-mails.  But absent this, they avoided the computer system like the Black Plague.  I cannot remember a single employee who didn’t damn the Department’s clunky, slow and often crashing computer system.  They positively hated it.  No one sent e-mails to their friends, families and workmates, placed Amazon orders or sent any communication that was not clearly classified over State’s system. It just didn’t happen. 
So was I surprised when Hillary’s basement server was revealed?  Well, I thought it odd that is was in her home, but I wasn’t all that surprised that she was sending non-official communications separate from the State Department’s system.  Sure the arrangement seemed a bit strange but then when Colin Powell also said that he too used a private platform to send e-mails, I wondered how many other Secretary’s of State did the same?  Of course we now know that other Cabinet members and members of Congress also did the same.  So the press can castigate Clinton but I haven’t heard a single story about why she felt is necessary to this.  Except, of course, that Clinton is just an evil secretive bitch.  

But here’s the larger question:  Why is it that government computer systems seem to be so inadequate?  Why is it that in part of our ICBM missile system they’re still using floppy disks?  I don’t think I’ve used a floppy disk in a decade.  It’s possible to trace the Government’s antiquated systems right back to the theme “Government isn’t the solution.  Government is the problem.” And for three decades we’ve been demeaning, diminishing, short-changing and dissing government agencies and government employees.   This attitude towards government is miles away from how we viewed public service in the past.  When John Kennedy asked us all: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your county” he was basically calling on Americans to join public service as a worthwhile and honorable profession.  How things have changed. 

NOTE: The smashing of the cell phone with a hammer crime?  Very common practice at State to ensure that the contents of the phone didn’t fall into the wrong hands.  Witnessed this several times. 

Have A Great Day!


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