Watchdog: US Ambassador Kennedy used private email

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Posted: Aug 25, 2015 3:42 PM
Watchdog: US Ambassador Kennedy used private email

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senior staff at the U.S. Embassy to Japan, including Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, have used personal email accounts for official business, an internal watchdog said in a report Tuesday. Some emails contained sensitive information.

The State Department's Office of Inspector General said that it identified instances where emails labeled "sensitive but unclassified" were sent from or received by personal email accounts. Department policy is that employees generally should not use such accounts for official business, the watchdog's office said.

"Employees are also expected to use approved, secure methods to transmit sensitive but unclassified information when available and practical," says the report.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said that although Kennedy did "infrequently" use private email, there was no indication she violated department policy, which allows its sparing and careful use if the information sent or received is then archived in a government system. He said classified information was not sent by private email, and that Kennedy did not use a personal email server.

The inspector general's finding comes in the midst of a department review of thousands of Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails that were sent and received from a private email account while she was secretary of state. Clinton also used her own email server.

The inspection of the embassy's operations was conducted between January and March. Kennedy, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, has served as ambassador in Tokyo since November 2013.

The report does not appear to suggest a serious information breach. Sensitive but unclassified information can be shared outside of the government, though officials are required to use discretion. However, it puts further spotlight on the department's struggle to keep its information secure.

"It is highly, highly discouraged to send (by private email) information that you think is sensitive but unclassified," Kirby told reporters. "You can do it if there's no other viable means of communicating the information, and you take the proper steps to make sure that it's recorded back into the government system."

In May, Secretary of State John Kerry asked the inspector general to review several issues related to personal email use across the department. These included possible new guidelines for retaining government information, better compliance with Freedom of Information Act and congressional requests, more transparency and updating the agency's technology. The review is ongoing.

Kirby said that the embassy in Japan requires the use of official email accounts to conduct official business whenever possible. He said Kennedy and other staff were implementing in full the recommendations made in Tuesday's report.

The wide-ranging report also takes note of Kennedy's celebrity status and its impact on the embassy.

The report says the ambassador is very popular in Japan because of her family history and has an "innovative" approach to public diplomacy. But it notes that demands for her participation in events across Japan have put strains on the embassy's resources.

It says the protocol section has been augmented with additional staff hours, and the embassy "has now caught up on the backlog of gifts sent to the ambassador in her first six months in Japan."

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Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.