Gordon LuboldThe Wall Street JournalCANCEL
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Felicia SchwartzThe Wall Street JournalCANCEL
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Dec. 17, 2015 12:42 a.m. ET
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter used his personal email account for government business, the Pentagon acknowledged late Wednesday, putting him among a group of officials that includes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who have drawn critical scrutiny for how they have handled official communications.
The disclosure of Mr. Carter’s private email use, which a top aide said he has discontinued, has threatened to overshadow a sensitive overseas mission in which the Defense secretary is visiting key U.S. allies to secure greater commitments in the international fight against Islamic State extremist group. He has visited Iraq and Turkey this week.
Mr. Carter, confirmed by the Senate in February as President Barack Obama’s fourth Defense secretary, occasionally used his personal email account for work-related matters, but concluded doing so was a “mistake,” and discontinued that practice, said a statement by the Pentagon press secretary, Peter Cook.
The statement by Mr. Cook also said that Mr. Carter has a “secure communications team” that safeguards the integrity of classified material, and said any work-related matters that went through his personal email also were copied to an official Pentagon account, where the communications will be preserved.
Mrs. Clinton, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, has come under fire for exclusively using a personal email address while in office. Her use of private email didn’t break federal laws, but provided her with control over records that are to be turned over as part of Freedom of Information Act requests. Mrs. Clinton has said she didn’t knowingly share classified information.
If anything, Mr. Carter’s case may arouse greater concern. The Pentagon is among the most highly targeted U.S. agencies for international hackers, and was the subject of a major incursion last summer that forced the shutdown of unclassified email networks of the department’s most senior officers for weeks. That attack was suspected of originating in Russia, and involved more than 4,000 unclassified email accounts.
The Pentagon didn’t specify how long Mr. Carter used private email for official business or how extensively he relied on it. The New York Times ,
which first reported Mr. Carter’s email practices, said records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed his use of private email continued for two months after disclosures in March about Mrs. Clinton’s private email use.
Mr. Carter’s email practices were depicted by Mr. Cook in the Pentagon statement as sparse, rigidly controlled and closely monitored. But it said Mr. Carter’s occasional use of private email for official business was a mistake.
Mr. Carter “strongly prefers” to communicate in person or on the phone, and rarely uses email for official government business, Mr. Cook said.
“The secretary doesn’t directly email anyone within the department or the U.S. government except a very small group of senior advisers, usually his chief of staff,” Mr. Cook said.
Of his private email, Mr. Cook said it is used mainly for friends and family. “Any email related to work received on this personal account, such as an invitation to speak at an event or an administrative issue, is copied or forwarded to his official account so it can be preserved as a federal record as appropriate,” Mr. Cook said. Mr. Carter uses neither personal email nor official email for classified material, Mr. Cook said.
“After reviewing his email practices earlier this year, the secretary 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,” Mr. Cook said. “As a result, he stopped such use of his personal email and further limited his use of email altogether.”
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