Hillary Clinton warned of the U.S. government’s vulnerability to cyber attacks at a private event a day before it was revealed that her unsecured private email server contained discussions of high-value intelligence sources, according to newly obtained audio of her remarks.
"We’re not as technically sophisticated in much of the government as the Department of Defense is, as the NSA is, as the CIA is. The rest of the government is not that sophisticated, so we’ve got to up our game across the board," Clinton said.
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She was addressing supporters at the McLean, Va., home of Anthony Welters and his wife Beatrice, a high-dollar Clinton fundraiser who served as U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago while Clinton led the State Department.
An email from a Clinton campaign staffer whose account was recently breached by hackers contained an audio file of Clinton’s full remarks at the event and a subsequent question-and-answer session.
In response to one event attendee’s questions about U.S. intelligence gathering, Clinton warned that the U.S. government is at risk of information security breaches by both adversarial governments and terrorist groups.
"Cybersecurity is going to be one of the biggest challenges for the next president," Clinton declared.
"We are barraged by China, Russia, Iran, even North Korea," she said. "What I worry about are the non-state actors. … We have to look broadly at all these new threats."
Clinton referenced the 2015 cyber-intrusion at the Office of Personnel Management, during which hackers suspected of operating in collusion with the Chinese government gained access to sensitive and private information on millions of U.S. government employees.
Clinton did not mention her own cybersecurity controversy, which was in full swing when the event took place on Feb. 16, 2016.
A day after the event, Fox News reported that Clinton’s private email server, which she maintained in violation of State Department cybersecurity rules, contained classified discussions of a CIA source in Afghanistan.
That thread was one of more than 100 emails on Clinton’s private server that contained information since deemed classified.
Clinton maintains that her private email server was never accessed by any malicious actors, though the FBI confirmed in its probe of her email practices that someone using Tor, an encryption service that hides online identities, did breach another account on her server.
Though the FBI did not identify an intrusion, in part because Clinton’s staff destroyed or discarded the 13 mobile devices Clinton used to send and receive emails while at State, cybersecurity experts maintain that her email account probably was compromised.
Additional hacked emails show that Anthony Welters, the high-dollar Obama fundraiser and hedge fund executive who hosted Clinton’s February event, had previously discussed Clinton’s email arrangement with former secretary of state Colin Powell.
Messages from Powell’s personal email account showed that he advised Clinton on how to skirt State Department information security rules.
Welters, whose wife was the U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago while Clinton led the State Department, put Powell in touch with Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills in 2015.
"If it is about emailgate I doubt I can help," Powell wrote. After he and Mills spoke, Powell reported back to Welters that he "warned her about rolling me into HC explanation of her email activities."
The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.