Any office probably has an employee or two that exhibit the following traits: Unread emails clutter their inboxes. But if an important email arrives, they just have to print it out.
Such mundane quirks may explain how a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, finds herself in a pinch over a personal computer she shared with her disgraced husband that is clogged with emails, some from the State Department, and now the subject of intense FBI scrutiny.
FBI reports and released emails themselves tell some of the story of how Abedin, who served under Clinton at the State Department from 2009 until 2013, came to be in such a fix.
According to FBI interviews, Abedin often used a Yahoo email account to get around a balky State Department computer system. Whenever Clinton, who had an aversion to even basic computer technology, wanted to read something, she’d ask Abedin to print it out – repeatedly, according to the Clinton emails that have already been released by the State Department.
Abedin then would forward the requested item to her Yahoo account, and print it from there.
And that could well be how State Department emails, which The Wall Street Journal says may number some 650,000, ended up on Abedin’s home computer – depending on how the computer had been configured. Many computers use an email client program, such as Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail, that accesses email sent to private accounts on Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or any other service.
“If you set up Yahoo on Apple Mail or Outlook or any of the other services, it will store a copy of your email on the hard drive,” said Matthew D. Green, an assistant professor in the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Two FBI agents interviewed Abedin in early April as part of the bureau’s investigation into Clinton’s email practices. Abedin, who served as Clinton’s deputy chief of staff for operations, was always near her boss on Mahogany Row, the seventh-floor suite of offices that Clinton occupied.
Abedin was given a State Department email account (firstname.lastname@example.org), and maintained a separate account housed on a private server in Clinton’s Chappaqua, New York, home (email@example.com), “which she used for matters related to Clinton’s personal affairs and to communicate with Clinton’s personal staff and friends,” says an FBI report that was declassified and released Sept. 22.
Abedin also had a personal Yahoo email account (firstname.lastname@example.org) and a fourth account used to support the campaign of her now-estranged husband, Anthony Weiner, a former Democratic congressman. That email address is not publicly known.
Two separate computers sat on Abedin’s desk at the State Department, one used solely for monitoring or sending classified information.
Abedin told the FBI she routinely used private email while on the job.
She would use these accounts if her (Department of State) account was down or if she needed to print an email or document.
FBI report on Clinton email investigation
“She would use these accounts if her (Department of State) account was down or if she needed to print an email or document. Abedin further explained that it was difficult to print from the DoS system so she routinely forwarded emails to her non-DoS accounts so she could more easily print,” the FBI report says.
Upon assuming her State post, Clinton “could not use a computer,” Abedin told the FBI, and relied on a BlackBerry and an iPad to check emails, occasionally stepping out on to a balcony to get better reception.
State Department emails obtained this week by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, following a lawsuit to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request, corroborate what Abedin told the FBI.
“Pls print,” said one email from Clinton’s private account, HDR22@clintonemail.com, to Abedin on May 14, 2009. A similar email on Oct. 15 of that year from “H” to Abedin also said, “Pls print for me.” It referred to correspondence from strategist Mark Penn on the Taliban.
Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl D. Mills, also told the FBI that Clinton didn’t know how to use a desktop computer and preferred to get information face to face or on the phone.
Clinton also liked to receive and read a lot of information in paper documents, which is why she would often forward emails to her executive staff with instructions to print.
FBI report on Clinton email investigation
“Clinton also liked to receive and read a lot of information in paper documents, which is why she would often forward emails to her executive staff with instructions to print,” the FBI report says.
For many users, email just piles up, some of it unread.
“Right now, I’m looking at my phone, I have 16,136 unread emails,” said Green, the John Hopkins assistant professor.
Many aspects of the case remain unclear, including whether Abedin had set up her unclassified State Department email to automatically forward everything to her Yahoo account – a common practice, at least in the private sector, for users whose office email accounts aren’t always easily accessible.
What is clear is that some of the emails sent to her accounts at Yahoo and the Clinton private server contained information so sensitive that the State Department redacted major portions upon releasing the emails to Judicial Watch this week in response to its lawsuit.
One email in which Abedin was copied at her Clinton server email account on Oct. 26, 2009, was from Philippe Reines, who at the time was Clinton’s senior adviser. The message line said: “Re: Clinton’s influence in Team Obama, a nuanced role.” The body of the email was redacted.
Other emails were more mundane, including detailed rundowns of Clinton’s daily schedule. One, for Oct. 26, 2009, lists small and large staff meetings, a meeting with assistant secretaries, a bilateral meeting with Singapore’s (now-deceased) Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, an event with philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, an Oval Office meeting with Obama and a news briefing on religious freedom.
Abedin’s use of a Yahoo account raises other concerns. Yahoo announced Sept. 22 that in late 2014, hackers had stolen information associated with some 500 million Yahoo accounts, one of the largest cybersecurity breaches ever.
Hackers gained access to “names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords . . . and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers,” Yahoo said.
Nearly two years passed when the hackers might have had secret access to Abedin’s Yahoo account and seen the email passing through it.