Back to blog

How did Clinton aide’s emails get lost?

Jul 8, 2016 by Romulo Melillo

Critical files missing, according to State Department

According to a court filing on July 4 2016, lawyers allege that the State Department “cannot find any text messages sent to or from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and cannot locate any emails received or sent by a key information technology staffer during her tenure.”

The ‘staffer’ in question – Bryan Pagliano – an aide who was reportedly on Clinton’s payroll at the time and who maintained the private server where her email messages were stored – has consequently been put under the spotlight himself.[vc_column width=”2/3″]As has been widely reported, last year US government investigators said they’d found classified information in emails from Hillary Clinton stored on her private server. The FBI this week recommended no charges against Ms Clinton over her handling of classified information on a private email domain, but called it “extremely careless.” However, last December the State Department acknowledged it could not locate the main archive of Pagliano’s messages from the Clinton era.[vc_column width=”1/3″]During the course of the State Department’s investigation, it advised that its searches for Clinton texts, BlackBerry instant messages and emails belonging to Pagliano all came up empty for a period of May 2009 through February 2013. Pagliano himself is reported to have sought immunity with the Justice Department in return for providing information to FBI agents investigating Ms Clinton’s server, and how more than 2,000 classified messages ended up on that system.

It appears that official emails were not routinely archived during Ms Clinton’s tenure, but although an extensive search has revealed large volumes of messages belonging to various aides, there is a huge gap covering Pagliano.

The offline PST jinx strikes again

So what’s the problem with the missing Pagliano emails? It appears that for the period in question they may well have been stored in an offline PST file – the local file created by common versions of Exchange/Outlook. PSTs are widely recognized to be vulnerable and insecure and from time to time they go missing.

The problem is that PSTs are not controlled and managed centrally. They can be freely modified and moved about on individual user machines. They can even be stolen – as happened with the infamous Sony hack. Now, we’re not suggesting anything malicious happened to Mr Paglianio’s PST. But it was surely unwise to risk putting potentially highly-sensitive government-related information into an unmonitored local file of any description.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said that: “The Department has searched for Mr. Pagliano’s email PST file and has not located one that covers the time period of Secretary Clinton’s tenure…The Department has located a PST from Mr. Pagliano’s recent work at the Department as a contractor, but the files are from after Secretary Clinton left the Department.”

Find your PSTs and eradicate them

Having PSTs on the loose puts any organization at risk. The only safe way of dealing with PSTs is to migrate the data out of them and to then permanently eradicate them.

It may be that the machine or drive that held Mr Pagliano’s PST has been destroyed, but there are likely to be traces of it somewhere. Quadrotech’s PST FlightDeck would be a good way to start; it has the industry’s best track record of locating and migrating offline files on desktops, laptops, servers, removable media and even Macs.

Old PSTs have a habit of coming back and biting you, years after they were in use. So whether you’re chasing down compliance in the State Department, or just running an everyday business, you really need to get hold of your data and to get rid of your PSTs. Now.

The story continues

It appears Ms Clinton’s not out of the woods yet.

The State Department has re-opened its review following the conclusion of the FBI investigation.  A BBC correspondent notes that: “While the most serious consequence – loss of security clearance – seems impossible (bordering on absurd) to enforce on Mrs Clinton were she to be elected president, it could prevent her from placing any affected staff into high levels of her administration.”

One supposes Mr Pagliano would be one of those ‘affected staff’.

The missing PST saga seems set to run and run.