Hillary Has an NSA Problem

Posted by on Mar 18, 2016 at 10:31 am
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The documents, though redacted, detail a bureaucratic showdown between Ms. Clinton and NSA at the outset of her tenure at Foggy Bottom. The new Secretary of State, who had gotten “hooked” on her Blackberry during her failed 2008 presidential bid, according to a top State Department security official, wanted to use that Blackberry anywhere she went.

That, however, was impossible, since Secretary Clinton’s main office space at Foggy Bottom was actually a Secure Compartment Information Facility, called a SCIF (pronounced “skiff”) by insiders. A SCIF is required for handling any Top Secret-plus information. In most Washington, D.C., offices with a SCIF, which has to be certified as fully secure from human or technical penetration, that’s where you check Top Secret email, read intelligence reports, and conduct classified meetings that must be held inside such protected spaces.

But personal electronic devices—your cellphone, your Blackberry—can never be brought into a SCIF. They represent a serious technical threat that is actually employed by many intelligence agencies worldwide. Though few Americans realize it, taking remote control over a handheld device, then using it to record conversations, is surprisingly easy for any competent spy service. Your smartphone is a sophisticated surveillance device—on you, the user—that also happens to provide phone service and Internet access.

As a result, your phone and your Blackberry always need to be locked up before you enter any SCIF. Taking such items into one represents a serious security violation. And Hillary and her staff really hated that. Not even one month into the new administration in early 2009, Ms. Clinton and her inner circle were chafing under these rules. They were accustomed to having their personal Blackberrys with them at all times, checking and sending emails nonstop, and that was simply impossible in a SCIF like their new office was.

This resulted in a February 2009 request by Secretary Clinton to NSA, whose Information Assurance Directorate (IAD for short: see here for an explanation of Agency organization) secures the sensitive communications of many U.S. Government entities, from Top Secret computer networks, to White House communications, to the classified codes that control our nuclear weapons.

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