In July 2017, former South Carolina governor and the Trump administration’s former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley used a government system for unclassified information to discuss North Korean rocket launches because she forgot her password to the secure one, the Daily Beast reported on Wednesday.
At the time, North Korea was testing Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles that could theoretically strike parts of the U.S. (though it remains unclear whether it has the technical capability to deliver a functional miniaturized nuclear warhead or aim the missile accurately). According to the Beast, Haley was heading in for work on July 4 when she used her Blackberry 10 to send “confidential” material concerning the launch to aides working on a statement over the State Department’s unclassified OpenNet system .
The emails seen by the Beast were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the American Oversight nonprofit and are mostly redacted with codes signifying confidential information on national defense, foreign governments, and potentially even “confidential sources” (B1, 1.4 (B), and 1.4(D)). But in her book, Haley wrote that the discussions centered on the possibility of nuclear war with North Korea (potentially apocalyptic on regional scales) and “There was no time to waste.” Haley was prepping for a United Nations Security Council meeting on July 5, during which she claimed in the book to have convinced the Chinese to side with the U.S. by bluffing that Trump was crazy enough to star a war, the Beast reported.
It wasn’t until the next day when she wrote in another email that she “Can’t find my password for the high side,” referring to a more secure channel. Emails show that Haley continued to write over OpenNet on July 5, the Beast wrote.
Notably, State Department systems used for unclassified communications have been targeted by hackers before. The State Department suffered a major breach of “unclassified email traffic” in 2014, as well as a smaller breach in 2018. North Korea is known to have bulked up its cyberwarfare capabilities in recent years, but even if breaching the State Department is beyond its power other nations could easily be interested in reading whatever was given to Haley.
Then there’s the whole issue of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, which obsessively focused on an email controversy involving Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during her tenure as secretary of state. Numerous Trump appointees have predictably and completely disregarded that their boss campaigned on email abuses in the past few years. That list includes Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner (who used WhatsApp to communicate with Saudi autocrat Mohammed bin Salman before it was known to be vulnerable to powerful spyware allegedly used by Salman’s security forces), Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and almost every member of the incoming Trump transition team (Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn, Stephen Bannon, and Stephen Miller). Fortunately, it remains unclear whether the president himself even knows how to send an email.
“The American public has heard for years what the standard is for senior State Department officials mishandling classified information in their emails,” American Oversight executive director Austin Evers told the Beast. “Ambassador Haley may have found it inconvenient to update her password, but, as we all know, ‘convenience’ is not an acceptable reason to skirt information security rules. She should be held to the same standard as everyone else.”
According to the Beast, a representative for Haley asked to see the emails in question and then stopped responding.