Hillary Clinton may be the poster child of questionable email practices, but she wasn’t the only one in the Obama administration to put sensitive matters at risk on unsecured email accounts.
We have obtained 215 pages of documents containing official, sensitive emails of Jeh Johnson, former head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and three other top department officials sent through private, unsecured, Webmail-based email accounts.
The documents include emails discussing high-level meetings Johnson was to have with the Kuwaiti ambassador and Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry officials, as well as a West African $4.5 million online consumer fraud scam.
We received these documents thanks a May 23, 2016, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit after Homeland Security (DHS) failed to respond to a Dec. 29, 2015, FOIA request seeking emails "relating to official United States government business sent to or from" Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and three other top DHS officials that used "non-'.gov;" email addresses (Judicial Watch, Inc., v. United States Department of Homeland Security (No. l:l6-cv-00967)).
This is the first batch of emails sent through private, Web-based email accounts of Johnson, Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Chief of Staff Christian Marrone and General Counsel Stevan Bunnell that were also sent to government email accounts.
The emails released reveal that:
- The Kuwaiti ambassador to the US sent an email to Johnson’s unsecure email account attempting to set up a meeting for him with Kuwait’s Interior Ministry and discussing Kuwait’s Interior Minister’s having meetings with the heads of CIA, FBI, and DNI.
- The US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia emailed to Johnson’s unsecure email account, discussing Johnson’s upcoming meetings at the Saudi Interior Ministry in Jeddah.
- DHS Chief of Staff Marrone held sensitive discussions with an unidentified individual regarding the earnings of Lockheed Martin and a space vehicle launch consortium between Lockheed and Boeing, which the sender said to "use wisely." Marrone also received procurement documents related to launch vehicles and their "Launch Infrastructure Capability."
- Johnson gave a "Progress Report" speech in which he cited the Homeland Security Department’s "strides in cybersecurity."
- An unidentified individual spoofed Johnson’s name and email account in a phishing scam, telling recipients that they could get money from "an abandoned fund worth U.S.D. 4.5 million in West Africa" if they would send back their personal details.
Prior to the Obama administration’s leaving office, a federal court ordered the Department of Homeland Security to preserve email records sought by Judicial Watch. In petitioning the court for the preservation order, we argued, "A court order requiring preservation of these emails is particularly necessary now as DHS has suggested that these officials may have been acting without authorization by sending emails from these accounts . . . As such, there is no assurance that these officials will abide by a "request" by the agency to preserve these emails, particularly after their employment ends. . . . "
Judicial Watch previously uncovered documents revealing that Secretary Jeh Johnson and 28 other agency officials used government computers to access personal Web-based email accounts despite an agency-wide ban due to heightened security concerns.
The documents also reveal that Homeland Security officials misled Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., when Perry specifically asked whether personal accounts were being used for official government business.
It is ironic and disconcerting that Secretary Johnson and his aides touted Homeland Security’s great "strides in cybersecurity" while using unsecured, private, Web-based email accounts that the Department had officially prohibited.
The fact that the documents found in these email accounts were so heavily redacted and that Johnson’s name and email account were spoofed in a phishing scam is indicative of just how lax communications security was inside Homeland Security during the Obama administration.
We will continue to try to obtain these emails and were in federal court today on the issue.
I’m still waiting for the Trump administration to begin enforcing the rule of law on transparency as we see repeated instances of Obama-type legal defenses from the Trump Justice Department of illegal Obama administration secrecy.
Tom Fitton is the president of Judicial Watch. He is a nationally recognized expert on government corruption. A former talk radio and television host and analyst, Tom is well known across the country as a national spokesperson for the conservative cause. He has been quoted in Time, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and most every other major newspaper in the country. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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