U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and other staffers at America’s Tokyo-based embassy used their personal email accounts for work matters, including the discussion of sensitive information, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of State’s inspector general.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said it “received reports concerning embassy staff use of private email accounts to conduct official business,” in its review of the Japanese embassy’s operations. After receiving these reports, the agency investigated further and “confirmed that senior embassy staff, including the Ambassador, used personal email accounts to send and receive messages containing official business.”
The group went on to say it documented emails labeled “Sensitive but Unclassified” being sent from or received by personal accounts.
During a press conference on Tuesday, State Department Spokesman John Kirby addressed the recent email controversy. Although he admitted that department policy requires the “use of official email accounts to conduct official business whenever possible,” staffers can use private emails for government purposes “so long as certain rules are followed.” For instance, he said, making sure emails are preserved and saved on the government system is one such rule.
“It is not prohibited to use private email,” Kirby said. “It is discouraged, obviously, you need to be mindful when you’re on a private email account of the sensitivity of information that may or may not be transmitted.”
More than anything, he reiterated that Kennedy, specifically, broke no State Department rules when using her personal account, likely meaning the Ambassador preserved her emails by forwarding or copying her professional email on communications. Kirby didn’t explicitly say, however.
“She did use it [her personal email] infrequently, she does have an official email address that she does use for business, and the department policy says that those things need to be archived,” he said. “There’s no indication that she violated any of those department policies.”
Unlike Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kennedy and her staffers weren’t operating on a private server. They logged in through public email services, such as Yahoo Mail or Gmail. Neither Kirby nor the OIG could confirm which service was used.
Clinton’s controversial private server use continues to smolder with her server being turned over to the FBI earlier this month, though it’s thought that most of the servers were blank. Kirby also told CNN this week that Clinton did not violate State Department policy by using private email.
The OIG’s Japanese embassy report mentions other oversights on the embassy’s part, including its use of unapproved software and the failure to determine the scope of certain applications with concerns to users’ privacy.