Sun, Sep 18, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Powell’s hacked e-mails scare some in Washington off the grid

The latest hack might force US politicians to take near-paranoid security measures that are already in place on Wall Street and in Middle Eastern capitals

By Michael D. Shear and Nicholas Fandos  /  NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

A panicked network anchor went home and deleted his entire personal Gmail account. A Democratic US senator began rethinking the virtues of a flip phone. And a former national security official gave silent thanks that he is now living on the West Coast.

The digital queasiness has settled heavily on the US’ capital and its secretive political combatants this week as yet another victim, former secretary of state Colin Powell, fell prey to the embarrassment of seeing his personal musings distributed on the Internet and highlighted in news reports.

“There but for the grace of God go all of us,” said Tommy Vietor, a former National Security Council spokesman for US President Barack Obama who now works in San Francisco.

He said thinking about his own e-mail exchanges in Washington made him cringe, even now.

“Sometimes we’re snarky, sometimes we are rude,” Vietor said, recalling a few such moments during his time at the White House. “The volume of hacking is a moment we all have to do a little soul searching.”

The Powell hack, which might have been conducted by a group with ties to the Russian government, echoed the awkwardness of previous leaks of e-mails from Democratic National Committee officials and the CIA Director John Brennan.

The messages exposed this week revealed that Powell considered Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump a “national disgrace,” Democratic US presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton “greedy” and former US vice president Dick Cheney an “idiot.”

The latest hack could well spur a new rash of e-mail deletions across the US as millions of people scan their sent mail for anything compromising, humiliating or career-destroying. It adds to the sense that everyone is vulnerable.

The soul searching is happening with a special urgency in Washington, where e-mail accounts burst with strategies, delicate political proposals, gossipy whispers and banal details of girlfriends, husbands, bank accounts and shopping lists.

A television news anchor said that producers and staff members at her network had jokingly agreed at a morning news meeting to issue blanket apologies to one another if their e-mails were ever made public.

She said Powell’s e-mails had revealed him, a normally stoic public official, to be just as gossipy as everyone else, and added that the gossip, not classified information, was what people feared becoming public.

OLD BUT SENSIBLE

On Capitol Hill, US Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the news of Powell’s hacked e-mails had him thinking that New York Senator Charles Schumer’s never-ending use of an old-fashioned flip phone “makes more sense than ever.”

“I think more and more people are realizing that there isn’t a thing you can say in an e-mail that isn’t likely to be hackable or discoverable at some later point,” Durbin said, lamenting his own complacency.

US Senator Lindsey Graham shrugged off the news.

“I haven’t worried about an e-mail being hacked since I’ve never sent one,” Graham said. “I’m, like, ahead of my time.”

However, for another network anchor in Washington, who declined to be named for fear of becoming an even more prominent hacking target, the Powell disclosures led to a long night on Wednesday that involved saving a few personal e-mails and then deleting his entire account.

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