State Dept. Turned Off Security Features on Hillary Clinton’s Homebrew Email Server

WASHINGTON (AP) — State Department staffers wrestled for weeks in December 2010 over a serious technical problem with then-Secretary Hillary Clinton’s home email server, causing them to temporarily disable security features that left the server more vulnerable to hackers, according to emails released Wednesday.

Just weeks later, according to previously disclosed emails, hackers attacked the server, forcing Clinton’s staff to shut it down. The next day, one of Clinton’s closest aides, Huma Abedin, wrote to other high ranking staff: “Don’t email hrc (Clinton) anything sensitive. I can explain more in person.”

The emails were released under court order Wednesday to the conservative legal advocacy group Judicial Watch, which has sued the State Department over access to public records related to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s service as the nation’s top diplomat between 2009 and 2013.

The emails, reviewed by The Associated Press, show that State Department technical staff disabled software intended to block phishing emails that could deliver dangerous viruses. They were trying urgently to resolve an apparent conflict between the server’s built-in email delivery features with a version of “ScanMail for Exchange” security software from Trend Micro Inc. that had been installed on her server. Clinton has not previously described any security protections on her server.

“This should trump all other activities,” a senior technical official, Ken LaVolpe, told IT employees in a Dec. 17, 2010, email. Another senior State Department official, Thomas W. Lawrence, wrote days later in an email that Abedin personally was asking for an update about the server repairs. Abedin and Clinton, who both used the private server, had complained that emails each sent to State Department employees were not being reliably received.

After technical staffers turned off some security features, Lawrence cautioned in an email, “We view this as a Band-Aid and fear it’s not 100 percent fully effective.”

Clinton has repeatedly denied there is any evidence her private email server ever was breached. Her campaign did not immediately provide comment Wednesday.

On Jan. 9, 2011, a State Department IT staffer was forced to shut down Clinton’s server because he believed “someone was trying to hack us.” Later that day, he wrote, “We were attacked again so I shut (the server) down for a few min.” It was one of several occasions when email access to Clinton’s BlackBerry smartphone was disrupted because her private server was down, according to the documents.

The AP reported last year that in the early morning hours of Aug. 3, 2011, Clinton received infected emails, disguised as speeding tickets from New York. The emails instructed recipients to print the attached tickets. Opening an attachment would have allowed hackers to take over control of a victim’s computer.

In a blistering audit released last month, the State Department’s inspector general concluded that Clinton and her team ignored clear internal guidance that her email setup broke federal standards and could leave sensitive material vulnerable to hackers. Her aides twice brushed aside concerns, in one case telling technical staff “the matter was not to be discussed further,” the report said.

The State Department has released more than 52,000 pages of Clinton’s work-related emails, including some that have since been classified. Clinton has withheld thousands of additional emails, saying they were personal. The emails released Wednesday were not made available until after the inspector general’s office published its report, and Judicial Watch asked a federal judge to force the State Department to turn them over.

The case is one of about three dozen lawsuits over access to records related to Clinton’s time as secretary, including one filed by the AP. As part of its ongoing suit, lawyers from Judicial Watch on Wednesday questioned Bryan Pagliano, a former IT staffer for Clinton who helped set up the server, under oath. According to the group, Pagliano repeatedly responded to questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as he did last year before a congressional committee.

The FBI is also investigating whether Clinton’s use of the private email server imperiled government secrets. It has recently interviewed Clinton’s top aides, including former chief of staff Cheryl Mills and deputy chief of staff Abedin.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said in a speech Wednesday that Clinton’s email server “was easily hacked by foreign governments.” Trump cited no new evidence that hackers had successfully breached Clinton’s server, but he said unspecified enemies of the United States were in possession of all her emails.

“So they probably now have a blackmail file over someone who wants to be President of the United States. This fact alone disqualifies her from the presidency,” Trump said. “We can’t hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the hands of our enemies.”

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