National Harbor, Md. -- Former Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged using insecure email during his tenure at the State Department – but as a way to create more immediate communication among those within and outside the department.
During his keynote address at Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit he told the 3,400 in attendance that he had two computers on his desk, one the official secure computer – “clunky and difficult to use” – and the other a laptop with a phone line and modem that he used exclusively for his AOL account.
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The account, he says, was used only for unclassified communications to staff in Washington, D.C., and overseas. “The beauty of it was I eliminated time and space as a barrier to communications” he says. “I encouraged everybody to use it.”
As for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her private email server, he says, “Secretary Clinton takes it a couple steps further,” and he paused to raise his eyebrows. “I have no objection to her having a passion to be online in the 21st Century.”
“More and more restrictions are being put out. I’ll let the current leadership worry about it.”
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He noted that his use of private email has been investigated thoroughly and it’s been found that he did nothing wrong by using it. “I stand ready to do the perp walk at any time. It’s not going to happen, he says. “In my time I used this as a tool to move an entire organization into the 21st Century… Nobody came to me in those four years and complained about it.”
When he took over in 2001 the department still used Wang computers, long after the company itself had gone out of business. He upgraded the department to PCs; he bought 44,000 of them.
Powell says he’s faced risks in his career and urged conference attendees to recognize that risk as inevitable and to manage it.
“I see a lot of people say I want a zero defects, no tolerance policy,” he says. “Zero tolerance and defects doesn’t relate to humans. They make mistakes.” Rather he says risk should be examined and a decision made on how much risk is acceptable. That call should be made with input from those whose assets will be at risk. “Let me decide what level of risk I will accept,” he says.
He talked some about presidential politics. “People ask is there a superman or superwoman coming next January to save us?” he says. “No. We need super people who will study issues and candidates and charges going back and forth and vote for what’s best for America.”
He slammed Congress. “The first thing we should do is vote out Congress. I’ve never seen anything like this in 40 years,” he says. He compared Congress to the founding fathers. “They wrote a constitution in three months. We can’t pass a budget for six years.”
He says states should stop gerrymandering congressional districts so there is a real chance that entrenched members can be voted out. “Hold them accountable. Only we the people can do that,” he says.
Immigrants are a strength of America that ought to be better appreciated for their energy and innovation. His parents were immigrants.
He also praised public education, noting that he went through public schools and college in New York. “It cost me nothing,” he says.
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