Internal State Department emails reviewed by Fox News reveal that as security unraveled in Yemen, U.S. personnel were scrambling to finalize their exit plan and were so uncertain about what would happen that procedures for safeguarding sensitive information were bypassed — with permission from Washington.
The unclassified emails reveal staff on the ground in Yemen, as well as senior department executives in Washington, were concerned the evacuation might go bad and left a communication network running at the embassy in case staff had to return. The emails point to uncertainty on the ground amid fast-moving developments, even as the Obama administration downplayed any irregularities.
“It wasn’t hasty,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki insisted on Fox News’ “The Kelly File” on Feb. 12, a day after the evacuation.
But one email reviewed by Fox News showed genuine concern — even panic — in Washington, that an unclassified system exposing emails and day-to-day operations was left up and running at the embassy in Sanaa.
“We need to quickly think about the plan for destroying/sanitizing the OpenNet data that is still in Sanaa,” the email from a supervisor said.
“I am a little worried it is still out there.”
That referred to a main communication link with Washington, known as OpenNet. The emails show that system — at what was one of the most heavily guarded U.S. embassies in the Middle East — was not shut down, in what was described to Fox News as a break in standard practice.
On Feb. 8, Ambassador Matthew Tueller — with the approval of Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy, one of the State Department’s most senior executives — ordered staff to leave the OpenNet link up, in case the evacuation plan failed and they had to return to the embassy for an indefinite period.
But the worried email sent three days later showed the ramifications of leaving the system exposed, and it urged officials to implement a plan to destroy or clean up that data “as soon as possible.”