Denver IT Firm Regrets Clinton Contract

Platte River staff

Image courtesy of Platte River Networks, Denver

Denver IT Firm Regrets Clinton Contract
| published August 20, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

Platte River Networks, a Denver-based tech company chosen to manage Hillary Clinton’s server and email back in 2013, has told reporters that had it known it would be at the center of a storm, it never would have accepted the job from the outgoing Secretary of State or her staff.

The company took charge of the server and the email account at the time Clinton left her post as the U.S. top diplomat. The private email account and that privately-crafted server are now front-and-center in a widening and complex investigation which has proved a stubborn problem for Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Clinton has acknowledged that she used a private email account during her tenure as Secretary of State—a violation of Federal guidelines regarding official correspondence, and a possible violation of the Federal Records Act, which requires that all government employees use an official account set-up and managed using government servers. Clinton says she used the private email account as a matter of convenience, and to maintain consistency with the use of reading and sending emails using her Blackberry device. Clinton has also told reporters that the server—a type known to computer experts as a homebrew server—was also a matter of convenience. The server was housed in the Clinton’s private home in Chappaqua, New York during the time she served as Secretary of State.

After her departure from the State Department, Clinton has her staffers remove the server and delete information on it in a process called “wiping” or “cleaning.” Later, the server was also taken to a New Jersey tech firm which may have removed additional data from the machine. The server later ended up at Platte River Networks in Denver, where it was apparently housed for a time inside a bathroom, according to several media reports.

Last week, after receiving a subpoena from a Federal judge, Platte River Networks handed the server over to the FBI. The FBI and other investigative bodies are looking into the server from the standpoint of security—cyber-security experts want to know if Clinton’s emails through that server were compromised in any way, or if classified or sensitive materials were viewed by anyone other than Clinton.

Candidate Clinton has repeatedly told reporters that she has done nothing wrong, and her campaign spokespersons have sent out emails to supporters and donors during the last weeks stressing that no laws have been broken, either by Clinton or by her top staff.

But the FBI wants to know who made the decision—and how it was made—to delete thousands of emails from Clinton’s email account. Clinton acknowledges that she deleted some 29,500 emails which she says were of a personal nature. But the server has now moved to the center of the storm, as top Clinton staffers admit to also deleting emails as well as attempting to wipe the server of data. A Senate committee has requested thousands of emails and correspondence relevant to the 2012 terror attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, an attack which left several Americans dead. Clinton has said that the Senate inquiry is a political witch hunt, but now the FBI wants to know if emails were deliberately deleted to conceal correspondence about Benghazi.

Also at issue: were emails sent or received which contained classified or top secret materials using the private email account or the server. The Inspector General for the intelligence community last week found between two and four emails which contained references to “top secret” content or “classified” materials, though there is a semantic dispute as to precisely how and why those emails ended up in Clinton’s account. Since then, government inspectors have found an additional 60 emails containing data deemed classified or “top secret.” Agents have also flagged another 305 emails which they deem worthy of a closer inspection by intelligence agents.

Clinton has maintained that she neither sent nor received correspondence “which was classified at the time” using the private account. Clinton’s campaign spokespersons have also defended the use of the server since, at least for part of the time, it was located in the Clinton home—a house at all times under the protection of the Secret Service.

Referring to the contract to handle Clinton’s server, Platte River vice-president David DeCamillis told reporters for the Washington Post this week that his small tech firm “would never have taken it on” had he or anyone else at his company thought the assignment would have become the center of a growing storm. DeCamillis says his networking company is ill-equipped to handle the tsunami of phone calls, emails, letters, and hundreds of in-person visitors now a part of its daily life.

Prior to landing the Clinton job (a gig which its employees were required to keep secret) Platte River was primarily known as a reliable, locally-owned mom-and-pop networking firm. Its original offices were so small that some equipment—including Clinton’s server—was housed in an equipment rack inside an office bathroom. The company has grown substantially and now occupies a larger office suite, but DeCamillis now admits that his small company was neither cleared to handle Federal government-level cyber-activities, nor was it briefed by anyone with the Clinton organization about what to expect. None of Platte River’s employees have security clearances through any Federal agency or organization, nor was the company vetted by Federal security agencies.

Most importantly, DeCamillis told the Washington Post reporters, the company saw no reason to expect controversy on a seismic scale.

“We’re normal people,” DeCamillis said, “we’re not used to this. He told the Post that the company receives thousands of calls a day—from reporters, from investigators, from politicians of all stripes, from television stations and networks, even from people issuing threats.

How Platte River landed the contract is still unclear, though several investigative reporters speculate that the company’s original founding members—mostly liberal Democrats—made the linkage through their previous work for Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who was instrumental in negotiating Denver’s host-city status for the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Platte River, through its Denver attorney, issued a statement earlier last week that at the time the server was handed over to the FBI for inspection, the server was “blank.” In the meantime, the FBI says it will have forensic experts and computer analysts attempt to reconstruct—if possible—the server’s electronic footprints. If the FBI is ultimately unable to reconstruct the data which passed through the server, mystery will surely deepen as to what—or who—had access to Clinton’s emails, personal or classified.

Clinton told reporters with Telemundo that she expects the controversy to burn out soon. The tech staff and management of Platte River are surely hopeful that the storm move on quickly too.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Server May Yield More Problems for Clinton; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 19, 2015.

Hillary Clinton’s Email Woes; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 14, 2015.