Hillary Clinton’s Encryption Proposal Was “Impossible,” Said Top Adviser

Alex Emmons



Hillary Clinton’s advisers recognized that her policy position on encryption 
was problematic, with one writing that it was tantamount to insisting that 
there was “‘some way’ to do the impossible.”

Instead, according to campaign emails released by Wikileaks, they suggested 
that the campaign signal its willingness to use “malware” or “super code 
breaking by the NSA” to get around encryption.

In the wake of the Paris attacks in November, Clinton called for “Silicon 
Valley not to view government as its adversary,” and called for “our best minds 
in the private sector to work with our best minds in the public sector to 
develop solutions that will both keep us safe and protect our privacy.”

When asked during a debate in December whether she would legally compel 
companies to build a backdoor into their products to give law enforcement 
access to unencrypted communications, Clinton responded “I would not want to go 
to that point.”

But she then called for a “Manhattan-like project” to develop secure 
communication while allowing the government to read messages.

Cryptography experts overwhelmingly agree that backdoors inevitably undermine 
the security of strong encryption, making the two essentially incompatible.

The day after the debate, Sara Solow, domestic policy adviser for the Clinton 
campaign, called Clinton’s position “impossible” in an email with Teddy Goff, 
the campaign’s chief digital strategist. “[S]he’s certainly NOT calling for the 
backdoor now,” Solow said, “although she does then appear to believe there is 
‘some way’ to do the impossible.”

Goff had written that he thought Clinton’s reply was a “solid B/B+,” and 
suggested that she “thread the needle” and “quickly pivot from encryption to 
the broader issue of working with tech companies to detect and stop these 
people.” Goff also said that the Manhattan project analogy was something which 
Clinton should “truly, truly should not make ever again — can we work on 
pressing that point somehow?”

Solow’s suggestion was that the campaign quietly signal to Silicon Valley — a 
major source of donations for the campaign — that Clinton would support 
government hacking to circumvent encryption.

“Couldn’t we tell tech [companies] off the record that she had in mind the 
malware/key strokes idea (insert malware into a device that you know is a 
target, to capture keystrokes before they are encrypted). Or that she had in 
mind really super code breaking by the NSA. But not the backdoor per se?”

The FBI has in fact used targeted hacking to get around encryption tools, 
quietly and effectively. In 2007, for example, FBI agents caught a teenager who 
was sending online bomb threats to a high school in Lacey, Washington, by 
sending him a link that installed malware on his computer.

The Clinton campaign had previously struggled to answer inquiries about the 
candidate’s position on encryption. “This is going to be a challenge,” Clinton 
foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a November exchange about how to 
respond to a press inquiry. “I think we should give a comment on the 
anonymizing tools and punt on backdoors.”

During Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, the State Department 
aggressively funded the development of encryption and anonymous web browsing 

In Solow’s email, she asked whether there was any actual evidence of terrorists 
using the technologies the State Department funded. “Is there evidence,” asked 
Solow, “that bad guys — not just dissidents but terrorists or whatever — have 
also benefitted from the technologies supported by the [State Department’s] 
Internet freedom agenda?”

In response to terror attacks, Clinton has repeatedly called for an 
“intelligence surge,” but has provided little clarification about what she 

It's better to burn out than fade away.

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