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Tech staff needed security 'credentials' to handle Clinton emails

Oct 4, 2016
In The News

Newly released emails sent by employees at a technology company that was hired to protect Hillary Clinton's private email traffic suggest those employees knew the records they were about to handle would be sensitive or classified.

SECNAP Network Security Corp. was hired by Clinton's team in mid-2013 to provide cybersecurity to the server managed by another company, Platte River Networks. Both companies, as well as a third that provided back-up storage called Datto, Inc., have denied knowing the sensitivity of the records they handled and, ultimately, deleted.

But emails obtained by the House Science, Space & Technology Committee and shared with the Washington Examiner show SECNAP sought "background checks" and security "credentials" in June 2013 for the employees that would work on Clinton's email network.

SECNAP was also asked to "limit" the number of employees who could monitor the Clintons' email traffic. Infograte, a consulting outfit hired briefly by the Clintons to find technology firms that could manage the "clintonemail.com" network after Clinton left the State Department, said only "two folks" should be allowed to alter the settings of the system, and told SECNAP that most of its employees "would not know their name[s]."

The "two folks" were a pair of "very tenured employees" in whom a SECNAP executive expressed confidence and trust. That executive, Dale Sigarny, offered to provide "additional information on those two" upon request.

The previously undisclosed emails indicate the Clinton consultant asked "how much of the body of the email we can limit" from the staffers who would eventually monitor Clinton's email traffic for potential cybersecurity threats. 

While SECNAP registered dozens of attempted breaches in the roughly two years before the server was taken offline, investigators have not yet uncovered evidence that any were successful.

Sigarny assured Clinton's consultant that his staff could "adjust [the email settings] so all we see is the To & From & Date."

The new emails suggest employees involved in the management of Clinton's network were aware of the possibility that emails on her server could contain highly sensitive or classified information. SECNAP did not return a request for comment about the conversations.

Nearly all witnesses interviewed by the FBI during its year-long investigation of the email system denied having any awareness at the time of the thousands of classified emails that ended up on Clinton's unauthorized server.

Bryan Pagliano, the former State Department IT aide who built the physical hardware on which the "clintonemail.com" domain resided, admitted to investigators while under the protection of an immunity deal that he had been warned about the likelihood of classified material passing through the server.

An employee from Platte River Networks who managed the Clinton account, Paul Combetta, also received immunity from the Justice Department after scrubbing Clinton's emails with a digital deletion tool. Combetta, like other Platte River employees, has refused to cooperate with congressional investigators.

Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science Committee, began asking the three companies involved in managing Clinton's emails — SECNAP, Platte River and Datto — for documents and testimony in January.

While Datto and SECNAP have provided at least some of the records requested by Congress, Platte River has dug in its heels at every opportunity, committee staff said.

The House Science Committee has asked SECNAP for information about the device used to secure Clinton's server, as well as data from the known attempts to breach the system.

Smith has joined a number of congressional chairmen in pursuing records related to the Clinton email case amid skepticism over the FBI's handling of the investigation.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has sought notes from the bureau's closed investigative file, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has demanded answers about the five immunity deals handed out to witnesses throughout the year-long probe.

Many of the FBI's explanations have failed to satisfy Republicans who were already miffed about the conclusion of the case. FBI Director James Comey said, for example, that Platte River employees' emails describing a "Hillary cover-up operation" were merely jokes.

In other records obtained by Congress, Platte River staff worried they had stumbled upon "some shaddy [sic] s——" in 2014 as they sought ways to put in writing requests from Clinton to delete emails.

Comey also declined to specify whether his agents were aware of Reddit posts authored by Combetta in July 2014 in which the Platte River specialist asked for help from the online forum in stripping Clinton's email address out of records he had been asked to prepare for submission to the State Department.

His Reddit posts, which indicate he was acting at the behest of someone on the Clinton team, suggest the former secretary of state's aides had concerns about the government discovering the inbox in which her official emails were stored. Combetta aimed to replace the original address with her new one in existing emails that had been requested by the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Cheryl Mills, Clinton's former chief of staff, told the FBI she had concerns about Clinton's email address becoming public knowledge.

But after the 2013 hack of Clinton associate Sidney Blumenthal exposed her address in a Gawker article that printed screenshots of the records stolen from Blumenthal's inbox, Clinton's email address was changed. That public revelation would appear to undercut Mills' argument that privacy concerns drove the effort to paper over Clinton's original email address.

Republicans have been frustrated by what they say is the FBI's inability or unwillingness to drill down on these kinds of inconsistencies. Agents seemingly searched for "the most charitable explanation" for each aberration they discovered, one GOP staffer lamented.

114th Congress