Back when Vice President Mike Pence governed Indiana, he did a lot of public business via a personal, AOL e-mail account. Often times, he used it to discuss matters of Homeland Security and other, confidential issues.
[Video: courtesy of Dwight Adams/IndyStar]
Pence’s personal inbox contained correspondence entailing basic security (gates of the governor’s mansion) and broader issues—e.g., Indiana’s stance on terrorism.
Information-technology professionals wonder if the now-vice president’s emails were properly defended from hackers—AOL’s not a government-shielded account. Actually, Pence’s AOL account was hacked summer 2016! Additionally, open-government proponents are paranoid that his e-mails lack transparency in terms of personal e-mail accounts being not easily accessible on state servers when requesting public records.
In a statement, VP Pence’s Washington office has this to say, “Similar to previous governors, during his time as governor of Indiana, Mike Pence maintained a state e-mail account and a personal e-mail account. As governor, Mr. Pence fully complied with Indiana law regarding email use and retention. Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state consistent with Indiana law and are being managed according to Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.”
Current, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s people were quick to cooperate and disclosed 29 pages of Pence’s AOL e-mails. However, there was an unknown sum too sensitive and confidential for public eyes. The reason being Indiana Supreme Court rules dictated as such. The undisclosed pages could’ve also been attorney documentation. (Holcomb’s people opted to not offer how many messages remain hidden from public record.)
NYU, Tandon School of Engineering, Computer Security Professor Justin Cappos raised an eyebrow over the matter. “It’s one thing to have an AOL account and use it to send birthday cards to grandkids,” he said in an interview. “But it’s another thing to use it to send and receive messages that are sensitive and could negatively impact people if that information is public.”
While Indiana law doesn’t forbid officials from doing any/all business on personal inboxes, it’s translated to be understood any/all personal-inbox-conducted business will be made available for public records and correlating uses. The Pence crew explained they hired third-party associates to fairly review his personal inbox when he transitioned from governor to VP. Any public-business correspondence was sent to the state.
During her time as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton endured the same examination(s). But unlike Clinton, former-governor Pence would not have clearance to view matters of national security. And Pence was all over Clinton’s back during the 2016, presidential campaign. He aggressively claimed she was concealing public information while any classified information was potentially available to hackers.
Pence spokesman Marc Lotter used “absurd” to describe Pence-Clinton juxtapositions. He stressed Pence not handling any top-security information when he was governor. To boot, he explained the former governor used AOL while Hillary utilized a private server via a home installation.
However, cyber pros pros (including WatchGuard Technologies Chief Technology Officer Corey Nachreiner) seem to think both e-mail servers were equally insecure. “In this case, you know the e-mail address has been hacked,” he said in an interview. “It would be hypocritical to consider this issue any different than a private e-mail server.” Nachreiner and his ilk explained personal inboxes are much-less secure than government-server-hosted accounts—those have layers of supervision and walls of security.
But there has been no hard proof of Clinton’s e-mails being hacked. Pence’s 2016 hack entailed a cyber assailant having Pence’s contacts believing the Pence Family was stuck in the Philippines—a call out for money was sent to everyone in his address folder. (What??) Pence sent out apology e-mails to any/all who’d received the correspondence in error—in addition to creating a new AOL account.
Upon examining the hack in detail, Justin Cappos concluded it wasn’t personally aimed at Pence rather a broad shot at many. “It’s particularly concerning that someone who didn’t do a very particular, very specific attack was able to hack this account,” he said. Chock that up with some Pence’s emails being classified or exempt from unnecessary eyes.
“The fact that these emails are stored in a private AOL account is crazy to me,” Cappos added. “This account was used to handle these messages that are so sensitive they can’t be turned over in a records request.”
[Video: courtesy of Indianapolis Star]
Unlike state-hosted servers, AOL accounts are highly probable to be undisclosed when doing public-record searches. Did Pence to the necessary steps to avail them for public records? (Nothing indicates as such.)
Luke Britt, Pence’s Indiana Public Access Counselor in 2013, instructed officials to copy or forward state-business correspondence to their government inboxes to ensure transparency for public records. If government officials do not save their private-inbox messages entailing public matters, “they’re running the risk of violating the law,” Britt said in an interview. “A good steward of those messages and best practice is going to dictate they preserve those.”
All media-captured government-official inbox messages are on state servers. Pence-related e-mails were acquired after multiple, failed requests to Pence’s administration—four months prior to him leaving office.
When Pence appeared on the September 2016 edition of NBC’s Meet The Press, he was quick to judge Hillary Clinton by calling her “the most dishonest candidate for president of the United States since Richard Nixon.” (This was regarding her own private-e-mail-server matters.)
“What’s evident from all of the revelations over the last several weeks is that Hillary Clinton operated in such a way to keep her emails (and particularly her interactions while Secretary of State with the Clinton Foundation) out of the public reach, out of public accountability,” Pence added when on the show. “And with regard to classified information, she either knew or should have known that she was placing classified information in a way that exposed it to being hacked and being made available in the public domain even to enemies of this country.”
And, of course, counterpointers weighed in.
“There is an issue of double standard here,” Indiana University professor & former-Indiana Coalition for Open Government president Gerry Lanasoga said in an interview. “He has been far from forthcoming about his own private email account on which it’s clear he has conducted state business. So there is a disconnect there that cannot be avoided.”
At the Council of Foreign Relations, Digital & Cyberspace Policy Program Dirctor Adam Segal came back with saying that unlike a US Secretary of State, Pence wasn’t likely to come upon classified national-security information—but he could understand why the criticism was there.
“A large part of the criticism of (Hillary Clinton’s) personal server by the GOP (that it was unsafe or that it was to circumvent oversight) would be misplaced if Pence was using an AOL account,” Segal said. “The secretary of state would be in possession of secrets that had more of a national impact but at a lower level—a private email account has the same implications.”
Ethics experts and government-accountability advocates are now worried their politicians are lacking transparency. With Pence duking it out in state court regarding the concealed information within e-mail messages entailing his participation in a 2014 lawsuit rivaling then-President Obama’s stance on immigration. Labor lawyer and Democrat William Groth is chasing after that correspondence. Groth thinks it’s proof of Republicans making a waste of the system.
[Video: courtesy of Nate Chute/IndyStar]
With Pence enduring all this muck, should President Trump trust his sidekick? Consider this: the president is bold and boisterous—seemingly forward. How should he handle his pet Pence(r)?