Clinton's email woes spin a tale about the ascendance of IT

AP News
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Posted: Sep 10, 2015 4:39 PM
Clinton's email woes spin a tale about the ascendance of IT

WASHINGTON (AP) — One congressional committee subpoenaed him. Two others are dangling the possibility of a promise of immunity to get him to dish about Hillary Rodham Clinton's email setup.

Lo, the IT guy, international man of mystery.

The swirling interest around Bryan Pagliano, the former State Department employee hired to maintain Clinton's email server, is fresh confirmation — if anyone needed it — that "the IT guys" have arrived.

Once hidden cogs in the machinations of government, business and politics, they now have a seat at the conference table. (And better clothes.)

Think Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Officer, Chief Information Security Officer and more.

Pagliano didn't have a lofty title or a C-level suite.

But the fascination with his decision to invoke the 5th Amendment to avoid testifying about his role in the Clinton drama is yet one more sign of the ascendance of IT people in American life — and of everybody else's dependence on them.

"Every company today is at the mercy of getting the technology right," says John Challenger, CEO of human resources firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in New York.

So is every candidate — as Clinton is now painfully aware.

Her use of a private email address and server during her tenure as secretary of state, with related questions about whether classified information was compromised, has been a huge distraction to her presidential campaign.

Pagliano, hired by Clinton to help set up and maintain the server, appeared before House investigators behind closed doors on Thursday, ignoring reporters' questions as he arrived and departed.

He was in and out within 20 minutes after refusing to testify to avoid the risk of incriminating himself. His lawyers said he'll also decline to testify before two Senate committees trying to compel his testimony.

The lawyers also complained that forcing Pagliano to go before the House committee showed an intent "to intimidate our client, cause him personal embarrassment and foster further political controversy."

It's a certainty that the controversy will go on.

Consultant Matt McDonald, a former adviser to GOP presidential campaigns who is now with Hamilton Place Strategies, called Clinton's situation a classic example of what happens when IT experts don't have a big enough voice in big decisions.

"When people who don't have any measure of technological literacy are making decisions about technology, things can go sideways really quickly," he says.

Clinton herself has admitted she's no tech genius. Her emails, gradually being released by the State Department, show her struggling with operating a secure fax machine and asking lots of questions about her new iPad.

Questioned about whether she had wiped her server before turning it over to federal officials, she asked with sarcasm, "What, like with a cloth or something?"

Chris Wysopal, founder and chief technology officer of Veracode, a software security company, said the prominent role of IT experts in society reflects a transition over recent decades in which tech people went from helping organizations function more efficiently to themselves being drivers of innovation.

"'It isn't just a cost-saving thing," says Wysopal. "Regular companies are sort of becoming technology companies because they have to grow, and to compete they have to lean in on technology."

In short, the nerds and geeks of the '80s are now our masters. And they're cool.

Wysopal remembers the early days when he would tell people that he worked in cybersecurity. "We're managing firewalls," he'd say.

Yawn.

Now, with data hacks affecting everyone from White House officials to shoppers at Target, cybersecurity is front page news regularly.

And it is no surprise that IT staff are widely considered the biggest risk of insider threat in terms of leaks, whistleblower activities, corporate espionage and more.

In the era of data breaches everywhere from Target to Home Depot, a chief technology officer is more important than ever.

Challenger described the CTO job as similar to Scotty's on the Enterprise in "Star Trek."

"Maybe he's not making decisions on the bridge," says Challenger, "but the Enterprise can't fly without him."

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AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson in New York and AP writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

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