- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s advisers wrestled for months over whether she should support the use of strong encryption or government-mandated “backdoors” as terror attacks in the U.S. and abroad put the question at the center of a national security debate in her lead up to securing the Democratic nomination for president, leaked emails reveal.

In the aftermath of tragedies last year in Paris and San Bernardino, Mrs. Clinton’s inner circle struggled to decide her place amid a widening rift between law enforcement and the tech industry brought on by the growing use of digital encryption, according to private correspondence stolen from her campaign chairman John Podesta and published by WikiLeaks this week.

Emails dated November 2015 and released on Friday show how Mrs. Clinton’s campaign tackled a question about encryption posed by a Politico reporter after a terrorist attack in Paris days earlier. The attack rekindled concerns about law enforcement’s inability to monitor secure communications and spurred talks of mandating tech companies to build their products with a digital “backdoor” that could be accessed by investigators.

Asked for her take on the topic, several of Mrs. Clinton’s advisers quietly admitted that formulating an answer wouldn’t be easy.

“This is going to be a challenge,” wrote foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan.

“Agree with Jake. Man this is tough,” replied domestic policy adviser Sara Solow.

Talking points were shared by no fewer than 10 members of the Clinton camp, and the email chain concluded with one forwarding remarks then-Secretary of State Clinton gave in 2010. In the following months, however, similar questions would emerge repeatedly in the wake of further attacks.

When a married couple went on an armed rampage in San Bernardino in December 2015 and left behind a password-protected Apple iPhone that couldn’t immediately be unlocked by authorities, encryption took center stage at a Democratic debate and the internal conversations that ensued afterwards.

During a Dec. 19, 2015 debate, Mrs. Clinton suggested the U.S. should launch a “Manhattan-like project” to “bring the government and tech communities together” so that law enforcement can “prevent attacks.”

“Maybe the backdoor isn’t the right door, and I understand what Apple and others are saying about that. I just think there’s got to be a way, and I would hope that our tech companies would work with government to figure that out,” she said.

Teddy Goff, a Clinton strategist, told colleagues the Manhattan Project analogy was one the campaign “truly should not make ever again,” and said that Mrs. Clinton’s response “makes plain she isn’t aware” of how encryption works.

“I do think going forward it will be helpful to be able to refer to her having pledged not to mandate a backdoor as president. But we’ve got to iron out the rest of the message,” he wrote in a leaked email the next day after the debate.

“I actually do believe there is a way to thread the needle here, which I am happy to discuss; it requires us to quickly pivot from encryption to the broader issue of working with tech companies to detect and stop these people, and not getting into the weeds of which app they happen to use and that sort of thing.”

Ms. Solow, the domestic policy adviser, suggested Mrs. Clinton embrace the use of backdoors by any other name.

“But in terms of wanting a way to break in - couldn’t we tell tech off the record that she had in mind the malware/key strokes idea (insert malware into a device that you know is a target, to capture keystrokes before they are encrypted). Or that she had in mind really super code breaking by the NSA. But not the backdoor per se?” she wrote.

The FBI sued Apple in February 2016 in an effort to have the iPhone maker be legally compelled to crack the iPhone at the center of the San Bernardino case, but relented after acquiring the services of third-party hackers. In the interim, however, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, urged the Clinton campaign to oppose the FBI’s efforts.

“I hope that our candidate does not leap on the side of the FBI on the encryption ruling. If she is leaning that way, can I talk with her?” Ms. Lofgren wrote in a Feb. 17 email to Mr. John Podesta leaked earlier this week 

“I think we are inclined to stay out of this and push it back to Companies and [U.S. government] to dialogue and resolve. Won’t embrace FBI. Thoughts?” he responded.

Weighing in earlier this week, Mr. Podesta blamed the Russian government for hacking his email and supplying its contents to WikiLeaks.

“This level of meddling by a foreign power can only be aimed at boosting Donald Trump and should send chills down the spine of all Americans, regardless of political party,” he said Wednesday.

The Obama administration has concluded that the Russian government has directed a hacking campaign against American targets that has resulted in major data breaches suffered by the Democratic Party and several affiliated organizations and individuals. Responding Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said hacking the U.S. wasn’t in Russia’s interest, and that blaming Moscow was Washington’s way of “manipulating public opinion” before next month’s election.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said Thursday that the recent cyberattacks demonstrate more than ever the need to use strong encryption to protect American interests, including the privacy of its citizens.

“The announcement that the Russian government is responsible for the hacks into American political organizations and election systems is one more reminder how foolish it would be to undermine strong encryption, which is the foundation of digital security,” he said in an email to Morning Consult, a media and research company. “History has shown us that anytime you build a backdoor for the good guys, bad guys will exploit that security weakness. I’ll certainly be making that argument to my colleagues when Congress returns.”

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