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Tue Mar 3, 2015, 10:33 AM

I work at the State Dept. Let's talk email. [View all]

So Hillary's failure to use government email for government purposes is blowing up today, perhaps rightly. (Certainly, DUers spare no scorn or outrage for Republicans when they do this kind of thing). I thought you might be interested in one person's inside-the-Department perspective. Here's what I'd note:

- Hillary at State was famous for being a Luddite. That hip tumblr of pics of her on her BlackBerry notwithstanding, she apparently didn't even have a computer on her desk and used to ask staffers to print out important email for her to read.

- State is famously behind the times when it comes to digital technology. When Colin Powell arrived in 2001, he called IT to his office because nothing seemed to be loading in his web browser. The techs patiently explained that that was because his computer wasn't connected to the internet; no desktop computers at State were. But if he wanted to get on the internet, there was a handy desk in a room down the hall that he could use! Powell changed that right away (it's one of the reason that State rank-and-file, who are overwhelmingly liberal Dems, regard Powell as the best Secretary they've ever worked for) but its systems still provide an inferior user experience compared to most people's private computers. (One example: Internet Explorer 7 came out in 2006; Internet Explorer 6 was the only browser available on most State desktops until 2012 or '13.)

- As bad as State's desktop systems were (and are), remote access is much, much worse. Using personal email for business is not all that uncommon at State precisely because, away from the desk, State email is notorious for its slow pace and frequent outages.

- Lots of people can live with crappy email and slow communications. The Secretary's staff can't. I've was on embassy staff for two different Hillary visits, and worked directly with her staff while she was on the ground (met her, too; she was lovely, her staff were the demon spawn of Hell -- and not especially competent demon spawn, either). These folks needed to be in constant, immediate communication with each other; State email was not a reliable tool for that.

So, there's your picture: a not especially tech-savvy Secretary and a wonky email system that was especially bad when accessed remotely -- and Hillary was always on the go.

I'm not a big Hillary fan, but I can absolutely understand why she would have stuck with a system she already knew, and already knew worked. That doesn't make it right, but it does suggest it may not be nefarious. Hanlon's razor applies: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.

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