WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry occasionally uses a private e-mail account to conduct State Department business, a department official acknowledged Wednesday, a disclosure that comes amid heightened scrutiny over how government officials secure potentially sensitive information.
State Department spokesman John Kirby didn't directly respond to a question about whether Kerry had ever sent or received classified information via his private account. Instead, in a statement, Kirby said: "With respect to any classified material, he regularly receives such material through properly safeguarded briefings and papers."
Attention to the use of private and public e-mail accounts by top officials has become acute since disclosures that Hillary Clinton, Kerry's predecessor, maintained a private computer server at her New York home and almost exclusively used private e-mail to conduct State Department business. Her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has been dogged by questions about her e-mail practices.
Kirby said the State Department has been "clear that Secretary Kerry primarily uses a state.gov e-mail account for his daily work.'' He added: "And, he takes steps to ensure that his records are appropriately captured, regardless of their origin."
The State Department goes to extensive lengths to be sure work-related matters sent to Kerry's personal account are preserved, with at least one staff member granted access to his private account and tasked with pulling out any potentially work-related e-mails, a department official said.
Occasionally using a private account would put Kerry in line with what some of his predecessors at the State Department — other than Clinton — have done. Limited use of a private account is permitted by State Department rules.
In the past Kerry has used an AOL account and a Gmail account to communicate with longtime friends, associates close to Kerry told the Globe this year. The State Department wouldn't confirm what private account he currently uses.
A State Department official said that all work-related messages from Kerry's private account are either forwarded or copied to his government account, which means a record is automatically preserved on government servers. Still, it's notable that Kerry would continue to use a private account for any public matters given the huge controversy that has engulfed Clinton.
While in the Senate, Kerry had used his official Senate e-mail and, when he took over at the State Department, he took a much different approach than Clinton.
In the first few weeks, he obtained a government-issued iPad, where he could receive unclassified briefing materials. He also was given a government Blackberry and an official e-mail account.
Aides who were with him at the time said they wanted to ensure the account was secure, and it never occurred to them to try to set up a private system the way Clinton did.
As for Clinton, hundreds of e-mails on her private account have since been deemed classified, although her campaign maintains that none of the documents were secret when she sent and received them.
Questions about whether Clinton appropriately handled sensitive information have prompted a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe and caused her poll numbers to tumble. Her explanation has been that she used a private server merely for convenience.
The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that Russian-linked hackers tried five times to access Clinton's e-mails.
Clinton received the infected e-mails, disguised as speeding tickets, over four hours early on the morning of Aug. 3, 2011. The e-mails instructed recipients to print the attached tickets, which would have allowed hackers to take control of their computers, the AP reported.
The disclosure about Kerry's private e-mailing was made after a new batch of 3,849 of Clinton's e-mails was released Wednesday by the State Department, which is laboriously reviewing each of 55,000 pages of her private e-mails and releasing them each month. In the current batch, 215 included redactions because the material was deemed classified.
Kirby said it is "routine" for material to be upgraded to a classified status as documents are reviewed for public release. Nevertheless, it provided Republicans with more fodder as they seek to portray Clinton as reckless. Clinton has apologized repeatedly for the unusual set-up.
The e-mails released Wednesday revealed for the first time that Kerry, as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, directly communicated with Clinton via her private account.
Kerry sent Clinton a message in May of 2011 with details about a dinner he had had with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. He suggested that she "log a call" with Karzai and offered some talking points.
In the e-mail, Kerry said Karzai "shared some interesting and important insights on Pakistan which I will forward after my meetings in Islamabad." It was sent from his iPad.
Alec Gerlach, a State Department spokesman, said that Kerry wasn't aware of "all the details regarding her e-mail nor the extent to which she used it."
Still, the message adds to the circle of Washington's top officials who were aware of Clinton's habit of using a private e-mail to conduct official business.