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Murder in the SunMorgue
by Denis O'Brien, PhD

Who killed hundreds of Syrian children in Ghouta, Aug21|2013? How, and why?

WordPress version


Getting to the guts of the matter


Mapping Hilton's missing computer gear
"It's gotta' be down there somewhere. Lemme' have another look" : The Dude

Two months after FBI Director James Comey punted the idea of presenting the case against Hillary Clinton (Hilton) to a grand jury all of the FBI and media yada about the FBI's investigation is still focused on the tens of thousands of Hilton's e-mails (Ems) scattered here, there, and (just about) everywhere. But what the public is not getting to hear is the part about how much of the actual gear that held all that Em data has gone missing, and how the FBI has never inspected that missing gear and has no idea what it contained.

In announcing his decision not to take this case to a grand jury to obtain an indictment, what we mostly heard from Comey on Jul05|16 was how the FBI did not find potentially incriminating evidence of intent, thereby implying that there was insufficient evidence to raise the matter with a grand jury. However, when one looks at the various stories about how gear and data went missing between 2009 and 2016, Comey's assertions of a full and thorough investigation become absolutely risible, as does his decision to punt the grand jury. 

There are many reasons, listed below, why all of this is important, but here is the most important one: The stories that Hilton and her staff told about the disappearing gear are possibly, if not probably, falsehoods that should have been evaluated by a petit jury in a criminal trial, or at the very least by a grand jury, for in the American system of justice it is juries that make the determination of what the facts are and whether suspected wrong-doers are lying. Comey has defiled that system of justice and, hence, justice itself. 


This analysis relies primarily on the following original sources:

The Players

Here is a list of the players who are referred to below. 

  • Abedin, Houma: Hilton's Deputy Chief of Staff 2009-2013 
  • Combetta, Paul:  PRN IT guy who worked on Hilton's account
  • Cooper, Justin: IT guy hold-over from WJC operation ~ set up Chappaqua homebrew system
  • Hanley, Monica:  long-time "former" Hilton aide and congressional staffer
  • Kendell, David: long-time Hilton lawyer and friend
  • Mills, Cheryl: Hilton's Chief of Staff 2009-2013
  • Pagliano, Bryan: Hilton staffer IT guy who helped set-up/maintain homebrew system 
  • Platte River Networks (PRN): contracted with Hilton operation to maintain the homebrew system
  • Sullivan, Jacob:  Hilton's Deputy Chief of Staff 2009-2013, likely nominee for National Security Advisor
  • Williams & Connolly (W&C):  law firm representing Hilton


Tracking the gear 

Fig. 1.


Please refer to Fig. 1, above, to follow this discussion. The solid arrows summarize the physical movements of various pieces of Hilton's gear between 2009 and 2016, according to the FBI report.  Following the flow of the Em data is more difficult and is approximated by the broken lines. This analysis focuses on the gear.

  • The Apple Server (AS)

Cooper told the FBI that in 2007, while he was still employed by the Bill Clinton (Bilton) operation, he (Cooper) purchased an Apple OS X server to be used to host Em services for Bilton's staff.  In June of 2008 that AS was set up in the basement of the Clintons' residence in Chappaqua, NY by an Apple representative whom the FBI does not identify and does not appear to know the identity of.  In fact, the FBI admits it did not verify Cooper's story. Maybe at the time the FBI and Apple were not on speaking terms. 

Bilton's staff and the residence staff used the AS, but it was set up seven years after Bilton left office and so it likely did not contain data that could damage the US if the AS were to be hacked.  But that changed.

Hilton was sworn in as Secretary of State (SoS) on Jan21|2009. At that time, or just before, Cooper converted the AS to function as a server to host Hilton's private domain -- -- and her Ems. This was done at Hilton's instruction, according to Cooper.

The AS was used by Hilton and her staff for Em sending/receiving/storage from the date she was sworn in until Mar18|09, which means that the first 60 days worth of her DoS Ems passed through the AS.  On Mar18, the data on the AS were dumped onto the PS (below), but there is no indication in the FBI report that the AS was ever wiped clean. 

For the next five years the AS was re-purposed for residence-staff use and some [redacted person] used it as a workstation. Then, in 2014, the data from the AS were dumped onto an iMac and the AS hard drive was "discarded," which seems a bit strange. I mean WTF does "discarded" mean when we're talking about gear containing 60 days worth of Ems from the Secretary of State of the US?  Strangely, the FBI seems not to care. Nor do they seem to be concerned that the "discarded" AS may not have been wiped clean. They ignore this important point. "Discarded" is all we get.

The FBI apparently went along with this story. At any rate, the HD from AS was gone so they couldn't examine it. But, no worries, Hilton's suits at W&C said they checked the iMac that the AS data were dumped to and "no e-mails were found belonging to Clinton from the period of her tenure as Secretary of State" . . .  that's what the lawyers said and the FBI was good with that. There is no indication that the FBI actually looked at the iMac; consequently, in a court of law they could not testify truthfully as to what was or was not on either the iMac or the AS.  In laymen's terms this is called "dumb, brute ignorance." 

  • The Pagliano Server (PS) and the PRN Server (PRN)

The Pagliano Server is called that because Bryan Pagliano is the one who set it up in the Chappaqua basement. This is the computer most people think of as the "homebrew server." It was set up in Mar|2009. More specifically, on Mar18|09 the data from the AS were dumped onto the PS and from then until early 2013 when Hilton left DoS the PS was the primary piece of gear that all of her Ems passed through and resided on. 

Hilton left DoS on Feb01|13.  Months later, in mid-2013, a decision was made to employ PRN to manage the Clintons' computers. All services were transferred to the PRN server -- the FBI doesn't tell us where that server was physically located, but between the lines it seems to have been at a data center named Equinix, Inc in Secaucus, NJ.  The PRN server came into play after Hilton left DoS so, presumably, no sensitive comm was going through it. I don't believe we are told whether Em data were dumped from the PS directly to the PRN server.  It was the PS that held all the data from Hilton's SoS years. Let's follow that server from Chappaqua to the FBI.

We know that PS spent some time in Monica Hanley's residence because the FBI tells us that that is where Em data were dumped from PS onto a thumb drive (TD) and a MacBook (MB) for archival purposes. More on those devices below.  

On Ju23|13 an IT person [name redacted] at PRN moved the PS to the Equinix site.  It remained there until Oct03|15 when it was sent to the FBI, presumably going via Hilton's lawyers at W&C and with their consent, seeing as how no search warrants were issued. As I say, reading between the lines, Equinix is where the PRN server, the third server to handle Hiltons' Em traffic, was also located until it was produced to the FBI. The PRN HQ itself is in Colorado, not too far from the Platte River, would be my guess. 

And so the physical path of PS was Chappaqua basement, to Hanley's house, to Equinix at Secaucus, to the lawyers' office, to the FBI. Maybe the FBI still has it, after all this is apparently one of only two pieces of data storage gear they ever looked at in this case, the other one being the PRN server.   

  • The thumb drive (TD) and MacBook (MB)

If this story isn't whacko enough for you yet, it goes absolutely bonkers at this point. 

And the reason I say it is that the PS contained all of Hilton's Em correspondence during her tenure as Secretary of State, which must have included incredibly valuable information about, say, the Osama bin Laden hit. Just think what the "bad guys" would have paid to get their hands on the PS, or even just to be able to crawl around inside of it from afar, say, from some cafe in Tehran, Pyongyang, or, more likely, Tel Aviv. But with the PS now safely in the hands of the FBI, what's to worry?  

What's to worry is this: all the highly sensitive Em data from the PS were dumped onto the TD and MB. So the physical location of the PS is pretty much irrelevant at this point.  What's relevant is the physical location of the TD and MB, and both of them have disappeared.

In the spring of 2013 [Hilton was by then out of DoS] Hanley created a duplicate archive of Hilton's DoS Ems by loading the TD and the MB with the contents of the PS. Hanley did this, oddly enough, at her house, which may be the reason she is now referred to as Hilton's "former aide."  Believe it or not -- and I don't -- this Hanley lady is so stupid that she "forgot" to pass the loaded TD/MB to Hilton's people, and then both devices filled with data went missing.  Yes . . . still in her house. Lost as in "Has anyone seen that gear with the world's most sensitive data lying around?" That's the story, and, so far, they're stickin' with it.

The TD was, according to Hanley, never seen again.  As in ever.  As in Amelia Earhart.  As in Jimmy Hoffa.  

I mean, OK, losing a tiny thumb drive . . . I can see that, but this lady's house must be as much of a cleaning-woman's nightmare as mine is in order to swallow a MacBook whole, power cord and all.  Fortunately, the MacBook eventually crawled out from under Hanley's frig in 2014 and she promptly (?) cornered the slippery computer before it could disappear again and transferred it to [redacted male], a PRN guy, probably the one identified by  NYT as Combetta. [Redacted male] then transferred the data on MB to the PRN servers via a GMail email account, which sounds as if it would be about as secure as my downstairs bathroom during a SuperBowl party. 

Now . . . if you can believe the lost TD story, and the lost MB story, and the GMail story, then you're probably gullible enough to believe the assertion that [redacted male] gave the MB to either a US post office or to UPS and it . . . yep, disappeared again.  Any reasonable person must surely be beyond incredulous to realize that nobody, including the FBI, knows whether the alleged shipping agent was USPS or UPS that last saw the MB that once contained years and years of America's most sensitive Ems.  Apparently no one even bothered to get a tracking slip or number. Details, details, details . . .   What is really scary is that according to [redacted male] the MB was not wiped clean before it disappeared, so even if Ems had been removed, they were still there. 

And so the up-shot here is that two pieces of data storage gear, each one, apparently, containing a complete inventory Hilton's Ems from Mar18|09 to Feb01|13, went missing in Hanley's house. One was never found and the other was found and promptly went missing again, whereabouts still unknown. Now, I'm not an FBI guy by any conceivable stretch of the imagination, but if I was, the first question I would have asked Monica Hanley when I sat her down for an interview would have been: You wouldn't happen to know Anna Chapman by any chance, would you?

Why this is important

I have just scratched the surface of the mess.  For instance, I have not taken the time here to trace the Em data flow, or to discuss the shoddy procedures Hilton's clowns used to back-up data, or to point out their non-existent encryption techniques. Nevertheless, there are a lot of lessons for the public to contemplate in just the hardware side of this debacle. Here are a few. 

  • Hilton's competence, vel non: What this episode presages for America's future

The degree of incompetence in this story is utterly staggering. I have not taken the time to relate here the actions of all of Hilton's staff, but suffice it to say that the bit actors whom the FBI focuses on were not acting on their own.  Hilton and her upper-level aides like Abedin and Mills are scattered all through the FBI report, mostly, like Hilton, denying any knowledge or memory of anything. But we all know that the big decisions were made by them; the operational decisions by the techies and lower echelon aides.

And the reason this should concern us is that most of these goofs are long-term Hilton associates and employees and they will certainly form a large and influential component of the US government should Hilton be elected. They will certainly be handling a lot more classified information. That should give any voter immediate cause for concern. It's sort of like getting married: you don't marry a person, you marry a family, and Americans could be marrying into this family of clowns with no prospect of a divorce for at least four years.

As Comey put it: "Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information . . . we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clintonís personal e-mail account."

If you haven't done so already, have a look at the summary of the FBI interview with Hilton (link above). A lot of the questions were meant to explore her understanding of security procedures. The "I don't know" and "I don't remember" answers far, far out-number her substantive responses. It is an appalling testimony to either her faulty cerebral capacity or her honesty.  

For instance, the day after she took office, on Jan22|09, Hilton signed a "Sensitive Compartmented Information Nondisclosure Agreement" which states: 

"I hereby acknowledge that I have received a security indoctrination concerning the nature and protection of [Sensitive Comartmentized Information], including the procedures to be followed in ascertaining whether other persons to whom I contemplate disclosing this information or material have been approved access to it, and I understand these procedures."  

And yet, when the FBI asked her, she claimed she had no memory of every having received any training or guidance on how to handle classified information.  And so, by the indisputable fact of her signature on that agreement an issue of fact arises as to whether or not she was lying to the FBI. You can easily go to prison for telling the FBI you have no memory of something if a jury decides that your assertion of a faulty memory is a lie. And yet Comey gave Hilton a pass. Some are more equal than others, IOW.

When Obama put Hilton in charge of DoS in 2009 it seemed a shrewd but gracious decision in the same sense that Lincoln kept his political enemies within easy reach, too. Now we understand in so many discouraging ways that Obama is no Lincoln, and in the last 8 years he has made many poor decisions, including nominating Hilton. Forget for the moment Hilton's honesty problems, I am just talkin' plain, fumbling incompetence as demonstrated by this Em mess. If she was a poor choice for SoS, how wise a choice can she possibly be for president? 

I can almost hear Woody Allen: 

Soon American voters will be called on to make their own political decision -- between mendacity and incompetence on the left, and blow-hard braggadocio and bad hair on the right. I only hope they have the collective wisdom to make the right choice.

  • FBI's competence, vel non: What the investigation tells us about FBI competence

When Comey said on Jul05 that ". . .we found no evidence that any of the additional work-related e-mails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them . . ." what he failed to tell the public was that the investigation and, hence, the evidence did not include at least three missing devices that are known to have had Em data on them.

As far as I can see, with all of these data storage devices floating around the place -- all of which could still contain evidence of criminal activity on the part of Hilton and her clowns -- the FBI actually looked at only two: the PS and the PRN server, and they were almost certainly pre-checked by Hilton's lawyers before being handed over to FBI. The only reason Comey thinks he knows what data went where is because he relied 100% on Hilton's underlings and lawyers to tell him what was on the missing gear. Without examining the AS hard drive, the TD, and the MB, there is no way in hell the FBI could know the whole story. 

For instance, at the time Comey made his decision and his public explanation, it was presumed, by the public at least, that all of Hilton's Ems were accounted for and had been examined by the FBI and that that examination was the basis of Comey's decision not to go to a grand jury.  But in late August, almost 2 months after Comey's decision, the FBI announced that there were, in fact, 15,000 more freakin' Ems that had not been released by Hilton's lawyers and so are not a part of their investigation to date. WaPo  Thus, any reasonably skeptical observer must presume that the lawyers are probably sitting on a treasure-trove of damning Ems until after the election or until after Hilton is sworn in and can better control the FBI. 

But the main point is that this late Em sand-bagging by the lawyers tells us that: 1) the investigation was incomplete when the final decision was made, which means 2) Comey and his agency are incompetent for having missed that many Ems. 

  • Judicial integrity: In America issues of fact are decided by juries

What this matter comes down to is not she-says/he-says, and that is because there is no "he" to contradict what Hilton is saying. One side holds all the evidence and much of that evidence has disappeared without being inspected by the FBI. No one seems to be seriously questioning or investigating where these devices went. Consequently, the factual question comes down to not only what information is on the computer gear, but whether the stories Hilton and her crowd are spinning pass the smell test. 

For example, throughout the FBI report we are told repeatedly that the bottom-of-the-totem-pole people who organized and maintained the homebrew server were being directed and instructed by the top-of-the-totem-pole people. And Hilton herself is quoted as saying she knew the homebrew server was in the basement. Of course she knew it, she demanded it because DoS refused to provide her with a BlackBerry.  And it is inconceivable that she would not have discussed all of this with Mills, Abedin, and Sullivan.  And so it absolutely shocks one's conscious to read at page 10 of the FBI report that: 

"Clintons' immediate aides, to include Mills, Abedin, Jacob Sullivan, and [redacted] told the FBI they were unaware of the existence of the private server until after Clinton's tenure at State or when it became public knowledge."  

Given the facts developed in the FBI report and its summary of the Hilton interview, it is not possible for any sentient human to read that statement and not conclude that someone is lying.  

In America, if at the end of a criminal investigation all of the facts are resolved beyond reasonable doubt and only legal issues remain, then it is appropriate for the government to make a decision that the accused has no charge to answer to and should not be put to trial. But when, as here, the facts are foggy and the entire case rests upon a determination as to whether one or more people are lying, then it is up to a grand jury to decide whether a trial is appropriate. Why has that principle, which is the basis of Americans' judicial system, been defiled in this case?

Comey, we were all told, is a "straight-shooter." He got that enviable rep largely from resisting the way Bush's goons tried to get his boss AG John Ashcroft, who was then in the hospital, to sign off on domestic surveillance authority that the NSA was eager  to obtain in any way it could. But given the information we now have regarding Hilton's missing computer gear, and given the very obvious conclusion that with numerous vital factual issues unresolved, this case at the very least should have been placed before a grand jury, Comey's reputation has taken a severe bruising, as has the integrity of the American judicial system. 

  • Security: The scary known unknown

To many, myself included, Obama's legacy will forever be dominated by the way he has abused the so-called Espionage Act. He has used the Act to prosecute 3x more government employees than all American presidents before him combined. Many of Obama's targets were government whistleblowers who made every effort to follow proper protocol to stop illegal and unethical behavior of senior USG officials, and many got stiff prison sentences for their principled and heroic efforts to turn on some lights.  

But none of Obama's targets, including Thomas Drake,  Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou, and Stephen Kim accessed or possessed classified information that was anywhere near as voluminous or as sensitive as what must have gone through and resided on Hilton's missing gear. We know it was there, what we don't know is where it is and who has or had access to it -- Comey has said as much. Even the demonized and imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning did not have the wherewithal or the data to do as much damage to Americans and America's security interests as Hilton and her clowns.  

The troubling ramifications of these known security unknowns, mind-boggling as they are in their own right, are compounded by the prospect that Hilton may some day lead America. Principled people like Sterling and Manning are sitting in federal prisons because they put America's interests before their own. But Hilton has clearly demonstrated that she is willing and eager to put the security of Americans second to her own whims and her own self-centered demands for convenience. Her position was, essentially, give me a freakin' BlackBerry or I'll run my own Em service. And they didn't, and she did. 

What possible additional evidence of her potential for poor judgment could Americans need? While the amount and content of the information hacked by foreign agents and terrorists from her homebrew Em system are known unknowns, Hilton's potential for profoundly poor judgment camouflaged by overt mendacity is now a known known.   


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Denis R. O'Brien, PhD/Esq.
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