SecDef's redacted private messages reveal — gasp! — Washington insiders asking about jobs for friends and challenge coins for their kids.
Think U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s personal emails are going to create the same furor as those by a certain former secretary of state? Think again.
The 1,336 pages of work-related emails that Carter sent and received to his personal Microsoft email address don’t talk about ISIS or his thoughts about President Obama or members of the National Security Council staff. Instead, they show Washington insiders vouching for one another, wanting jobs for friends and challenge coins for their kids.
There are dinner reservations at Bourbon Steak and RIS, but — at least in the unredacted text — no talk of international scandals like Benghazi. There is, however, talk about PBS specials and a ton of speaking invitations.
Former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Harold Brown, former CIA Director George Tenet, retired Gen. Wes Clark and other retired military brass, tech entrepreneurs, Facebook’s COO, and ex- Pentagon officials all corresponded with Carter via his personal email account in his first 10 months as leader of the Defense Department.
In response to Freedom of Information Act requests by the New York Times and others, the Pentagon released a single file on Good Friday, after many in Washington had departed for spring break or the Easter holiday. Not that the emails are likely to generate much public outcry.
Unlike Clinton, Carter has used a government email too. In many cases, he forwarded correspondence from his personal account to his Pentagon account. And unlike Clinton’s, there’s no apparent classified information beyond the redactions.
Many names, phone numbers, and email addresses were blacked out in the 400-megabyte PDF, but enough information remained to give a behind-the-scenes peek at who’s counseling Carter. Here are few of the power players that exchanged messages with the defense secretary before he stopped using his personal email in December.
Robert Gates, one of the best-regarded defense secretaries of the generation, asked Carter for a bit of aid in preparing for a Senate Armed Services hearing. “All I’m looking for is some help in gathering unclassified facts to make my points more telling,” Gates wrote on Oct. 1. The former SecDef was looking specifically for budget data to slam lawmakers for not passing the Pentagon budget on time.
George Tenet, former CIA director, played a role in getting Carter to attend a tech conference in Sun Valley last July. “I know the country is in good hands,” Tenet wrote in a May 4 email.
Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago mayor and President Obama’s former chief of staff, threw his support behind a job candidate. In a May 4 email, Emanuel urged Carter to hire someone (whose name is redacted) who helped him on issues related to pensions and education reform.
Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO, emailed Carter several times, including once to congratulate him on creating a Facebook page. “I think you’re sending a strong message about how important it is to connect all of us with each other, with service members and with you,” she wrote. Sandberg also pledged to support Carter’s policy initiatives focused on women’s leadership. She also sent along a four-page document titled “Female Leadership in the U.S. Military Recommended policies and actions” that her non-profit LeanIn.Org is pushing.
Marc Andreessen, cofounder and general partner of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, wrote on Sept. 10 to thank Carter for coming to Mountain View, California, as part of the secretary’s outreach to Silicon Valley. “The session had a huge impact on everyone who attended and will spread outstanding word of mouth,” Andreessen wrote. “Please keep coming out and sending people out, we’re always happy to participate and to host folks at our office anytime.”
Harold Brown, Jimmy Carter’s defense secretary, wrote Carter on Oct. 16 about a “well done and fascinating” briefing he received. “I am mulling over what I learned and can give you my thoughts when you have a few minutes and we are both in DC,” Brown wrote.
Geoff Morrell, Gates’ press secretary, pops up a bunch. Among other things, he writes several times to recommend people for jobs. In a March 18 email, Morrell encouraged Carter to accept an invite from CBS to the White House Correspondents dinner. On March 23, he asked whether Peter Cook is still in the running to be hired as press secretary. And on Sept. 9, Morrell wrote that he had given Foreign Policy a “couple of steers” for a “big profile” article on Carter.
Sally Donnelly, a former journalist-turned-top aide to retired Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, regularly offered her thoughts on major policy issues, including what Carter should look for in the next head of U.S. Central Command. Carter’s chief of staff, Eric Rosenbach, refers to her as “a trusted and helpful friend.” In a June 1 email, Donnelly provided some analysis of comments Carter made about Iraq that “struck a chord.” On July 3, she urged Carter to meet with Emil Michael, Uber vice president and a former aide to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, during an upcoming visit to the Pentagon.
Tom Enders, the CEO of European defense firm Airbus, offered congratulations upon Carter’s confirmation.
Honorable Mention: There’s a fully redacted May 30 email from retired Gen. Wes Clark with the subject “US troops against ISIL.”
Here are some other interesting things we noticed in the emails:
Everyone wants a job. Lots of current and former Washington power players are regularly recommending other people, or even themselves, for Pentagon jobs. And Oct. 1, someone emailed Carter to ask him for the job vacated by Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
Or a letter of recommendation, as one of Carter’s old security bodyguards asks for in an Oct. 5 email. “I think a letter from you would go a long ways in helping me,” the officer, who included a photo of himself with Carter and said that he was now a defense contractor “basically doing the same job I was doing when I was providing security for you.”
Carter is a tough guy to get hold of, which was apparent in a Nov. 25 email from Frank Kendall, undersecretary for acquisition. “I have very little opportunity to communicate with you directly,” writes Kendall, whom Carter calls “Franco.” But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Be glad you don’t hear from me more often – others do,” Carter wrote back.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not paying attention. Carter sent personal notes of congratulations to his new team of military leaders after their nominations or confirmation hearings, including notes to Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, and Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, and a redacted email seemingly to Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff.
If you’re a man whom Carter likes and respects, he’ll affectionately call you “brother.”
Details matter. On Feb. 24, just one week after becoming secretary, Carter requested custom SecDef notecards. Apparently the ones he had as deputy defense secretary stuck out of his pocket in photographs, so he requested cards larger than a standard three-by-five-inch index card, but smaller than his unspecified older ones.
Carter gets a ton of speaking invitations, from everything from The National Bureau of Asian Research to the TiEcon tech conference in Santa Clara.
Can I get a coin? A high-school homeroom classmate of Carter’s asked in an April 11 email for challenge coins for his daughter and wife.
He can poke fun at himself. On July 2, the beginning of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, his Chief of Staff Eric Rosenbach joked in a 7:41 p.m. email, “Shouldn’t you be watching a PBS special on unique naval vessels?” Carter responded: “If you must know, PBS documentary on oceans.”
Operation Shut Down. Carter set up an auto-reply on his personal email account on Dec. 18, 2015, notifying senders he would no longer be responding to messages while he was defense secretary. Rosenbach made sure the auto-reply worked in an email with the subject “test operation shut down.”