Ash Carter's Email: A Look at What’s in It

Defense secretary says it was a mistake to use his personal account for work.

December 18, 2015, 7:46 AM

— -- A look at the email that U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent from his personal account to conduct some official Pentagon business shows mostly mundane details about logistics, daily schedule information, topics to be covered in speeches, notes from others in support of potential staff members and even a request for a recommendation.

The 34 pages of redacted email released publicly by the Pentagon’s Freedom of Information Act Office (FOIA) were either sent or received by Carter in April 2015. The FOIA request for copies of Carter’s messages to his immediate staff was originally made by the New York Times, which first reported Carter’s use of his personal email for some work-related matters.

Carter told reporters earlier Thursday that he would occasionally use an iPhone, with his personal email account, "to send administrative messages, no classified information" to his immediate staff. He admitted his use of the personal account for some official business was “entirely my mistake, entirely on me."

All the email sent by Carter contains the stamp “sent from my iPad” or “sent from my iPhone." Much of the email contains light redactions, but one from April 13 is redacted almost in its entirety, with even the subject heading blocked out.

The email exchanges themselves are very brief and provide a glimpse into the close working relationship between Carter and his immediate staff.

An email from April 28, which deals mostly with the logistics of Carter’s schedule that day, provides a glimpse into some of the classified documents to which Carter has daily access.

Carter initially asked for his Personal Security Officer to bring “DPB for car ride.” It is unclear whether Carter was referring to the Defense Policy Board or whether DPB was a typo for PDB (the classified President’s Daily Brief) because his senior military aide responded, “Sent PDB and a couple other SIPR notes you should read before heading to WH.”

But it is also unclear whether the aide’s response was also a typo. Either way, the “SIPR” notes would have likely been classified because they came from SIPR, the acronym used to describe the military’s classified Internet system.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Thursday that the committee would investigate Carter's use of his personal email "to ensure that sensitive information was not compromised."

McCain has requested copies of the email.

Two of them contain references to “the boss” -- presumably Carter referencing President Obama. It is unclear what Carter meant when he wrote to his chief of staff April 20, “l'll need to have some thoughts for the boss on how to roll out a decision esp In view of my travel starting wed."

Carter sought advice April 26 about when and where to do his first television interview as defense secretary. “Not sure about whether now is time or later. One thought is it’s better to do this now, so my first TV exposure isn’t on Sunday shows defending/explaining some ugly crisis,” he wrote. “On the other hand, don’t want to appear a showboat. Need good advice.”

Some of the email demonstrates Carter’s deep involvement in crafting his policy speeches, including one he delivered to Silicon Valley executives in late-April. Referring to a draft of the speech, Carter told a staffer April 19 “to begin making this leaner... there’s too much fluff, too many windy translations. I need to make room or more meat.”

In another email that day, Carter noted that he likes to edit his speeches up to the last minute, and said, “we will need to adapt our processes to accommodate this fact of life for this SD."

In some cases Carter was contacted by acquaintances who were seeking meetings with him or, in one case, a letter of reference. “Did we do this?” Carter wrote his chief of staff several days after he had agreed to pass along such a letter on his acquaintance’s behalf.

Other exchanges with staffers are more mundane, such as one April 29 when Carter asked his two senior staffers whether he should make a credit card payment at a hotel. With the subject line, “standing in front of hotel waiting,” Carter wrote briefly in the body of the email, “In absence of info will give desk my VISA card."

A short time later a concerned chief of staff asked, “Boss – are you still waiting?”

In an email with the subject heading, “If it’s not too late,” Carter wrote to staffers that he had mistakenly thrown out a 3x5 card containing notes into a “burn bag."

Burn bags are used to dispose of sensitive documents in an incinerator. An unidentified staffer cheerily wrote to Carter, “They will bring the bags from our office to me in the morning and I will find it! Too easy. Have a great night.”

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