Authenticate Wikileaked Emails? Not!

The news media has complained that the Clinton campaign won’t authenticate the 18,000+ emails released by Wikileaks supposedly hacked from John Podesta’s account. That this is an issue reveals nothing about the Clinton campaign, except an entirely proper caution, but a lot about the media’s abysmal ignorance of what it actually takes to authenticate any large amount of documents, especially emails.

To authenticate a document means to certify that the document is in fact what it appears to be. To do that requires knowledge, skill, time, and diligence — and if you hire someone to do it for you, it requires lots of money as well.

Remember, anyone who can hack an email account may have the skills to alter the emails they select for release to the public. So the only way for the Clinton campaign to authenticate the Wikileaks emails would be to make copies of every one of the emails from Podesta’s account during the relevant time period, search them to locate those emails that Wikileaks released, and compare the original to the Wikileaks version side by side.

Only after doing that would the campaign be able to conclude that (1) yes, the Wikileaks emails are in fact from Podesta’s account, (2) they have not been altered, and (3) nothing has been removed from a given email string to give a false impression of what the parties involved actually were saying to one another. Only then could it be said that the Wikileak emails are in fact what they purport to be, i.e., they are authentic.

I did business litigation for 25 years and in the course of multiple lawsuits reviewed thousands upon thousands of documents, including email strings, before producing any documents in response to Requests for Production. And I can tell you that just reviewing any set of 18,000+ documents for responsiveness and privilege, done right, would take a hell of a long time. Comparing allegedly duplicate email strings produced by different entities to be certain the purported copy is complete and identical would take considerably longer.

Yet it’s only after going through such a process that the Clinton campaign could “authenticate” the Wikileaks emails. And guess what? In the final month before the November 8 election, the Clinton campaign has plenty of other things to do.

Sure, the Clinton campaign could hire lawyers to do the job and put a rush on it, at a cost of thousands of dollars. But why bother? The media obviously aren’t concerned about the provenance of the Wikileaks emails, not really. If they were, they wouldn’t be reporting on them in the first place.

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