nikki haley

Haley Used Unsecured Emails for Classified Info Because She Lost Her Password

The putative 2024 Republican candidate for president, Nikki Haley. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

You’d really think that anyone involved in U.S. foreign relations after the 2016 presidential election arguably turned on Hillary Clinton’s sloppy email-security habits would have known better. But according to the Daily Beast, former South Carolina governor and media darling Nikki Haley transmitted sensitive and classified information via unsecured channels while serving as Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations:

North Korea had just tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting Alaska, and the Trump administration was scrambling to react. But it seems Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, had lost her password for classified communications. 


That’s why on that fraught July 4, 2017, she was typing away on her BlackBerry 10 smartphone, sending “confidential” information over a system meant only for unclassified material. 


Haley was in a rush as she headed to her office—“On my way in”—shooting emails back and forth with top aides who’d been with her since she was governor of South Carolina. She needed to make a statement, and they were drafting it for her. “Let’s clean this up,” she writes after looking at some of the copy. “Pretty this up for me,” she says.


The next day we discover what the problem is with her communications. “Can’t find my password for the high side,” she writes.

A watchdog organization unearthed this and other unsecured emails via a Freedom of Information Act request, and a lot of the content was redacted. So we can’t really figure out what a hacker might have harvested, but it’s not a good look for someone so often discussed as a future candidate for the vice-presidency and the presidency:

For an administration obsessed with security lapses others have committed, and for a still-rising star in the Republican Party, this could be more than a little embarrassing …


Since 2015 at least, when investigations of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email use became a major issue, Donald Trump and the Republicans have made references to her emails a constant refrain. In 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, Trump famously called on Russia to help him find missing Clinton emails. Then-FBI Director James Comey called Clinton’s practices “extremely careless,” but not worthy of a criminal prosecution, and his brief reopening of the case just before the election may have contributed substantially to her loss.

Indeed, Republicans are still obsessed with the Clinton emails, with many being frustrated that she was not incarcerated for use of a private email server.

Haley’s lapse wasn’t identical; she wasn’t using a private email server, but was using the State Department’s system for unclassified material:

In July 2017, the issue Haley and her staffers were discussing over the State Department’s OpenNet system for unclassified communications was the clear and present danger of nuclear war with North Korea. “There was no time to waste,” Haley writes in her book. “The missile launches were ongoing and the regime’s capabilities were increasing with each launch.” 


Precisely because of the crisis atmosphere, Haley’s use of OpenNet for classified communications could be of serious concern. State Department communications often are targeted by hackers, and the Russians, Chinese, Iranians—and North Koreans—have some of the most effective.

If nothing else, Nikki Haley better take a class in cybersecurity before making her next career move. And if and when she does run for higher office, she can expect some derisive chants of “Lock her up.”