- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 27, 2016

Democratic officials were urged to begin encrypting their communications in the weeks before thousands of internal party emails were published online by WikiLeaks, Vanity Fair reported Friday.

Although roughly 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails were ultimately published by the anti-secrecy website on the eve of the party’s convention in Philadelphia last month, the impact may have been much more significant had staffers not already been told to start exercising additional security measures because of fears of a potential leak.

The warnings reportedly began with a May 17 meeting in which Marc Elias, the general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, reportedly made two recommendations in particular to Democratic officials, according to Vanity Fair: install an encrypted messaging application for their smartphones called Signal, and stop using the word “Trump” while communicating with one another.

Attendees at the meeting were told that Signal has been touted by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and were encouraged to use the app especially if they planned on saying anything “remotely contentious or disparaging” about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Vanity Fair reported, citing sources familiar with the meeting.

While directing Democrats to avoid making disparaging comments about the GOP opponent in the face of a potential data breach likely warranted little further instruction, an email sent to DNC staffers around one week later reportedly provided a guide on how to install Signal, an app for both iOS and Android devices that uses end-to-end encryption to secure phone calls and text messages sent between any two people.

Using Signal wouldn’t have mitigated the impact of the DNC breach because the app doesn’t encrypt emails, but advocating its use suggests party officials took steps to minimize any potential blowback that could arise down the road concerning staffers’ communications. Representatives for both the DNC and Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign declined to comment when contacted by Vanity Fair prior to Friday’s publication.

Previous reporting has suggested that Democrats first learned of the DNC breach as early as April. Emails from May 5 in which DNC staffers discussed the religious beliefs of Mrs. Clinton’s then-opponent, former presidential hopeful Sen. Bernard Sanders, have since been attributed with causing the ousting of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Mr. Elias reportedly asked staffers to install Signal less than two weeks after those emails were sent, but not before hackers infiltrated the DNC’s email server.

The DNC breach and similar cyberattacks waged against Democratic Party organizations and officials remain the subject of an FBI investigation.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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