Homebrew of Troubles: Clinton’s Email Issues

Hillary Clinton

Homebrew of Troubles: Clinton’s Email Issues
| published March 5, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

After several days of silence, presumed Presidential candidate and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton says she has nothing to hide in the thousands of emails sent and received using a homebuilt server and private email platform during the time she served as U.S. Secretary of State.

She has asked that the State Department release all email records when it is able to do so, and the State Department now says it will comply, though the agency’s spokespersons have said it could take weeks—even months—to sort through the massive trove of correspondence.

“I want the public to see my email,” Clinton said in a Twitter message late Wednesday night, “I asked the State Department to release them.”

The New York Times and other major media sources first reported on the existence of the server early in March, and the controversy quickly gained center stage at a time when Clinton would prefer to concentrate her efforts on fundraising and networking for her presumed-candidacy. The server, known in computer geek language as “a homebrew” system, was housed in the Clinton’s private home in Chautauqua, New York. During her tenure as the chief diplomat and foreign policy negotiator, Clinton used emails linked to a privately-created account, @clintonemails.com.

Neither Clinton nor anyone connected to her former State Department staff or her campaign have offered an explanation of why Clinton chose to craft a home-based email platform using a homebrew server. Most legal analysts have suggested that Clinton may have broken the law by using a non-secure, non-government computer and server to send, receive and disseminate official business and crucial foreign policy correspondence.

Government officials are required to send and receive electronic correspondence using secure government servers and networks, for security reasons—as privately bootlegged networks can be easily hacked or breached—and in order to meet the requirements of the Federal Records Act. The Federal Records Act, originally created by Congress in 1955, has been amended several times over the decades to accommodate changes in technology. The law was revised in 1986 to encompass email and digital transactions, and amended again more comprehensively in 1996—at which time the provisions regarding email correspondence were more broadly rewritten and defined.

Though Clinton stated she wanted the emails made public, it is not clear how many emails she has sent to the State Department for review. Security and computer experts have suggested that by using a homebrew server, emails and files could be easily scrubbed or redacted before being turned over to a third party for release—meaning the public may never see the majority or totality of Clinton’s correspondence as Secretary of State. Further, by using a privately-run home network, the State Department will face technical challenges in collating and sorting email content which may be arranged or filed using platforms or methods not in keeping with typical Federal standards of record-keeping.

The modem and internet access in the Clinton home was set up under the name Eric Hoteham, who also happens to use the same Post Office address as that of the Clinton Foundation. Reporters have done extensive searches for Eric Hoteham, but have found no record of his existence (this proves little except that, if he is a real person, he is extremely private in his personal affairs). A few reporters have gone as far as to suggest Hoteham’s name may be an anagram, or perhaps the type of fake identity often used by independent computer hackers to set up the server or network of a private individual.

But the use of such a phony persona for official government business would be a violation of Federal law. And the use of private email accounts—established and operated on a computer in a residence—is in direct violation of Federal guidelines for all government employees. The use of such a bootlegged system by a cabinet-level official is unprecedented.

U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has said he plans to initiate an investigation into Clinton’s use of a homebrew server and private email platform. Chaffetz has indicated that his deepest concern is that by using such unauthorized and bootlegged forms of communication, she may have deliberately shielded herself from scrutiny, especially in the matter of the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Legal experts acknowledge that by using a private server and private email network, Clinton has no immediate requirement to release the thousands of emails sent and received while she served at Secretary of State. She could, however, be compelled by subpoena to produce all such correspondence; Chaffetz says his House committee has already issues such a requirement.

After the State Department issued a request in 2014 for Clinton to release emails, Clinton’s staff went to work sorting through the thousands of electronic documents. Around that same time, the Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request, asking for access to the 55,000 emails provided. But the AP says it has never received full access to any of those emails, and the State Department has said that Clinton’s staff personally managed which emails to make available and which to withhold.

This is the part that most concerns Chaffetz, who says that it would be all-too-easy for Clinton and her staff to decide which emails should be made available and which should be withheld, or deleted.

Republicans have pounced on the controversy as evidence of Clinton’s resistance to accountability and transparency, and some have said that the email fiasco provides further evidence that Clinton may have been hiding critical information regarding the attacks in Libya in 2012.

Homebrew servers and computer systems are not uncommon, especially among people who operate small businesses from homes or rented office space. But they are generally deemed unsecure from hackers or data breaches, and such privately-cobbled together systems are prone to malware and viruses. Homebrew servers are also prone to loss of data more easily than networks or services which use state-of-the-art backup systems and anti-virus protection.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Clinton’s Homebrew Email Server; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; March 4, 2015.

Bush Emails Accidentally Disclose Personal Data; Thursday Review; February 14, 2015.