Carter: Using Personal Email Account for Work Was a Mistake

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter concludes a joint news conference with British Secretary of State for Defense Michael Fallon, at the Pentagon, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter concludes a news conference at the Pentagon, Dec. 11. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged on Thursday that he used a personal email account to conduct some government business during his first months on the job.

In an interview with CBS during a trip to the Middle East, Carter called it “a mistake and it’s entirely my own.” The same practice by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has drawn intense criticism and led to an FBI investigation into two emails that are now considered top secret.

Carter said he used his phone to send “administrative messages.” He said none contained classified information and all were backed up for record keeping on the Defense Department email system.

“I have to hold myself to absolutely strict standards in terms of cybersecurity and doing things that are appropriate. I didn’t in this case,” he said.

The New York Times first reported the email practice late Wednesday.

In a statement, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it was “hard to believe that Secretary Carter would exercise the same error in judgment” in light of the attention for Clinton’s email use.

McCain said the committee has requested copies of the emails and will conduct a review “to ensure sensitive information was not compromised.”

Using personal email on unsecured servers leaves the messages vulnerable to hacking and other cyberattacks. The Defense Department has made cybersecurity a top priority.

Carter’s press secretary, Peter Cook, declined to say whether it was a violation of Pentagon email policies. Cook said Carter stopped the practice, but Cook did not say when.

The Times reported it had obtained 72 work-related emails that Carter sent or received from his personal email account.

Clinton’s email practices were revealed in March; Carter took office in February.

“After reviewing his email practices earlier this year, the secretary believes that his previous, occasional use of personal email for work-related business, even for routine administrative issues and backed up to his official account, was a mistake,” Cook wrote. “As a result, he stopped such use of his personal email and further limited his use of email altogether.”

The Times said the emails it received under the Freedom of Information Act were exchanges between Carter and Eric Fanning, who was his chief of staff at the time and is now the acting Army secretary.

The emails were on a variety of work-related topics, the Times said, including speeches, meetings and news media appearances. In one such email, Carter discussed how he had mistakenly placed a note card in a “burn bag,” the Times reported. Such bags are typically used to destroy classified documents.

Cook said Carter “does not use his personal email or official email for classified material. The secretary has a secure communications team that handles his classified information and provides it to him as necessary.”

Carter “takes his responsibilities with regard to classified material very seriously,” Cook said.

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