News broke this week that CIA director John Brennan had his personal email account hacked by a few teenagers. As luck would have it, this email account included sensitive information that probably wasn’t supposed to be there, and the teenagers provided this material to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks began publishing the material online yesterday.
This is an interesting story for several reasons, and we’ll touch on a few key points here.
First, we should point out that the so-called “hack” wasn’t sophisticated at all. Essentially, the culprits just duped some Verizon employees into giving them some personal information about Brennan, and then used the Forgot Your Password link on his email account. That’s how simple it was. Which is probably why you’re not supposed to put sensitive information on AOL. Who knew?
Second, it appears that Brennan was just occasionally forwarding work emails to his personal address for convenience rather than regularly using his personal account for government business. So while some interesting items have already been published, we probably won’t get too many bombshells out of it. Hopefully, I’m wrong about this.
Thus far, the most interesting thing I’ve seen from this document dump is a policy brief on Iran, in which Brennan noted that President George W. Bush’s labeling of Iran as part of the “axis of evil” was gratuitous and regrettable. Brennan went on to advocate for diplomacy with Iran in the document This is noteworthy because it was written around 2007 and 2008, when the drumbeat for war against Iran was quite strong. It suggests that even a hawk like John Brennan recognized how incredibly stupid an aggressive war against Iran would be.
And finally, it will be interesting to see how this plays out relative to the Hillary Clinton email scandal. At this point, Hillary Clinton’s actions appear to have been far more severe because she was regularly using it for work-related emails. Additionally, we know there was at least some classified information in Hillary’s emails. We have not seen formally classified information from Brennan’s account yet, but his account apparently did have a list names and social security numbers of intelligence officers, which could obviously be a problem. Accordingly, it seems plausible that both Brennan and Clinton may have mishandled sensitive information. Indeed, some conservative outlets have called for investigating and/or prosecuting Hillary on these grounds (for example, this). Will they take a similar line when it comes to the actions of a sitting CIA Director? Or will their affinity for the military and CIA prevent them from being consistent? Similarly, will partisan commentators on the left attempt to go after Brennan after downplaying the Hillary Clinton episode?*1
The most likely scenario is that Brennan and Clinton will both get a free pass on their email problems. After all, both of them are powerful, politically-connected people, and people like that don’t usually get prosecuted, regardless of the circumstances. But make no mistake, if these same offenses were committed by random, low-level government employees, their lives would be promptly ruined by an aggressive prosecution.
So in addition to what we may learn from WikiLeaks, we can look forward to this story providing further evidence that the rule of law does not apply to high-ranking government officials, regardless of their party affiliation.
*1 You’ll recall that Brennan is not a very popular figure among left-leaning folks after he obstructed the Senate Torture Report investigation and attempted to intimidate its authors.