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FBI Examining Online ‘Cloud’ Backups of Hillary Clinton’s Email

Hillary Clinton’s lawyers have agreed to hand over online backups of her emails made through an Internet “cloud” storage system to the FBI, and the Senate Homeland Security committee has also asked to see these files.

Employees of the Platte River computer company — which has been keeping one of Clinton’s email servers stored in the bathroom of a Denver apartment — only recently noticed that it was still communicating with an offsite backup server managed by a Connecticut firm called Datto, Inc., according to a report by the McClatchy news service.  (One potentially confusing aspect of the Clinton email saga is that she has used several different machines to handle her personal email account.  The one stored by Platte River is the one she used during most of her tenure as Secretary of State.)

Internal company memos cited by Senate Homeland Security chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) show that a Platte River employee immediately realized, “this is a problem.”  Platte River contacted Datto, told them not to delete any Clinton server backups, and set about attempting to recover the saved information, which probably includes the 30,000+ emails Clinton deleted in defiance of subpoenas, because she decided they were mere “personal” communications.

Johnson also described how Clinton representatives directed Platte River employees to begin cutting back the volume of email information preserved by their own in-house backups.  These requests seem to coincide with the beginning of the Clinton email scandal, when the State Department realized it couldn’t meet Freedom of Information Act requests because it was missing all of Madame Secretary’s correspondence, and asked her to supply those documents.

One employee of the computer company remarked in an email that “this whole thing really is covering up some shaddy s**t,” misspelling the word “shady.”

Realizing that their inability to produce more comprehensive copies of Clinton’s data to law enforcement personnel would make their company appear complicit in a cover-up, Platte River employees began looking for documented requests by Clinton operatives to scale down backup operations.  “If we have it in writing that they told us to cut the backups, and that we can go public with our statement saying we have had backups since day one, then we were told to trim to 30 days, it would make us look a WHOLE LOT better,” read one of Platte River’s internal emails.

While Platte River tries to recover Clinton’s data and the FBI examines her server — reportedly with success at recovering at least some of her deleted emails — attention now turns to Datto and its online backup system, in which data is sent across the Internet to be preserved by a remote service.  “With the consent of our client and their end user, and consistent with our policies regarding data privacy, Datto is working with the FBI to provide data in conjunction with its investigation,” the company said in a statement.

It remains to be seen how many “cloud” backups of Clinton’s data have been preserved by Datto.  Many such systems use an incremental backup method to conserve Internet bandwidth — a master copy of all data is made initially, and then only new or modified documents are forwarded to the system during periodic automated communications.  For example, the system might transmit a new backup file every Sunday night, containing all documents created or modified since the previous Sunday.  Systems that contain a great deal of valuable data usually transmit backups more frequently.

If this sort of system was in use for Clinton’s machine, the incremental files would be of limited use without the master copy, so preserving a full data set would be standard procedure.  On the other hand, if the system made frequent master backups, it might not be deemed important to keep many of the older copies.

In addition to requesting a copy of Datto’s backups for his Senate committee, Johnson also asked the company and its employees if they were authorized to handle classified information and whether their system has been attacked by hackers.  The wisdom of sending the sort of confidential, secret, and Top Secret information we now know Clinton was handling on her server through a “cloud” backup system seems debatable, although most such services advertise their online backups are heavily encrypted and difficult for hackers to intercept.

The McClatchy report also notes that the State Department has asked Clinton to “search again for any emails, regardless of format, from the first two months of her tenure,” following the discovery of some correspondence between the Secretary of State and former CIA director David Petraeus that she “forgot” to hand over, despite signing sworn court documents asserting she had submitted all work-related emails.

Clinton’s excuse for this was that until March 2009, she was using an AT&T Blackberry account from her days in the Senate, so her conversation with Petraeus was not routed through the homebrew server she began setting up on the day of her confirmation hearings.  Not only does that make little sense, it’s the kind of harebrained excuse the federal government would not accept from the manager of a small business during a tax audit.  The recklessness and carelessness of Clinton’s approach to national security and compliance with government accountability standards continues to amaze, even as the possibility of legal jeopardy hangs over the FBI investigation.

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