Records Management

Defense chief used personal email for official business

Ashton Carter

A DOD spokesman said Secretary Ashton Carter stopped using a personal email account for some official business after he realized it was "a mistake."

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter used a personal email account for some official business earlier this year and has since ceased doing so, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The revelation raises questions about the security of information handled by the defense chief and revives concerns about email security practices in the Obama administration in light of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's extensive use of a private email account during her tenure.

"After reviewing his email practices earlier this year, [Carter] believes that his previous, occasional use of personal email for work-related business, even for routine administrative issues and backed up to his official account, was a mistake," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

"As a result, he stopped such use of his personal email and further limited his use of email altogether," Cook said. "He is confident that his work-related email has been and will continue to be preserved within the federal records system."

The New York Times was the first to report Carter's use of a personal email account, citing White House and Pentagon officials and copies of Carter's email messages. He used his personal account for at least two months after the public revelation of Clinton's personal email use, according to the Times report.

"The fact that Hillary had so many issues around doing the same thing should have given [Carter] pause," said Justin Harvey, chief security officer at Fidelis Cybersecurity.

Carter's use of a personal email account for official business could have serious national security implications because such accounts don't have the same level of security and detection as enterprise email accounts, Harvey added.

Hackers have probed the email accounts of U.S. officials for vulnerabilities, and Iranian hackers recently broke into the social media and email accounts of State Department officials, according to another Times report.

The political controversy over Clinton's use of a private email server has hardly waned in the nine months since the arrangement was revealed.

The $1.1 trillion omnibus bill put forth in Congress this week takes aim at the issue by barring the State Department from paying for the support of external email servers and accounts operated outside the .gov domain. The general government section of the omnibus bill puts a blanket ban on using appropriated funds "in contravention of the Federal Records Act," in particular the section governing records of agency heads.

That Carter apparently chose to use a personal account after the Clinton revelation has already drawn a sharp rebuke from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said in a statement that the committee has requested copies of email messages Carter sent with his personal account and will conduct a review to make sure sensitive information was not compromised.

"With all the public attention surrounding the improper use of personal email by other administration officials, it is hard to believe that Secretary Carter would exercise the same error in judgment," McCain said.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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