I know what you’re going through right now, maybe more than anyone else. I know the humiliation. I felt your fear. I know the cruelty and anguish of the “slow drip” of emails. I know the trauma that starts your day. I know there aren’t words to explain the fear of a morning with a new quote leaked from private emails. I know the anger that rises when watching government actors manipulate, creating a tabloid effect, to mask the political take-down of your closest friends, all because it’s an election year.
John, you were there for me four years ago when I reached out to you for guidance about the same kind of injustice during the last election. And even though it was just a few years ago, what I went through was unusual, unbelievable, even un-American. Unfortunately, this tale of political intrigue has become entirely too familiar. The routine exploitation of innocent Americans because of political motivations epitomizes the deterioration of the integrity in the U.S. election cycle.
This string connects back to President Nixon’s election. And just like Watergate, powerful government tools and resources were used to pry into the personal lives and private communications of political rivals and even innocent citizens like us – all to win a close election.
Our emails are nothing less than stolen property being viewed and critiqued without authorization or consent.
Forty years later, we stare into the abyss. Once again we see the FBI, during the United States presidential election, using someone else’s affair as an excuse to abuse their powers by overreaching into “unrelated emails” sending shockwaves around the world. It’s the new normal in electoral politics and it is dirty. Bad government actors continue to abuse their surveillance powers to stifle our liberties in effort to manipulate the political landscape.
You and I both know how vulnerable one can become when a government has the ability to collect and leak our emails. We know the pain that results when a government abuses its powers to rummage through and selectively distort your private communications for political purposes.
After suing the government for snooping through my emails and lying about them to the media, I learned first-hand that essentially no individual can be held accountable for the leak of our private emails ― even when it results in a ruined career and reputation. Unfortunately, our current email laws are too weak and ineffective to hold anyone accountable. Obviously, history is being repeated.
Four years ago, I received two main pieces of advice: one extended the pain, the other helped me to heal.
I suggest you take a different path than the one I followed: please don’t “lay low” as your emails continue to be leaked to the news. Staying quiet actually hurt, since nature abhors a vacuum and political enemies will take advantage of your silence by manipulating the news. Tidbits of information, sentences out of context, and anything slightly salacious will be formed into an outrageous story that “sticks” unless you directly denounce the inaccurate narrative. It happened to me and now I see it happening all over again to you.
Once said and written, the false narratives take on a self-perpetuating quality. Therefore I highly recommend that you speak to the media and the American public. You need to defend your professional integrity because, as you know, the leaks and lies about my emails ultimately ended my successful career and destroyed my hard-earned reputation.
After living through four gut-wrenching years, I regret not correcting the record right away. This advice is not only for your well-being, but because I know first-hand this type of exploitation is emotionally exhausting and damaging to even the strongest families.
I only began to heal after I heeded the second advice: “Don’t take it personally.” The truth is: our powerful friends have equally powerful opponents. I want all Americans, regardless of party, to realize what is lost when political opponents feverishly dig up “dirt” during these highly polarized elections. I am reminded of the portion of the New Testament when the crowds were whipped into a fury. As odd as it sounds, our story has become somewhat Biblical: “give us Barabbas and crucify the other guy.” The focus of our private emails is part of the political propaganda to give up the other guy.
Don’t get me wrong, you will still feel persecuted, but don’t take it personally. It’s all part of a larger distraction and manipulation process executed during a closely contested election. The way forward to peaceful life will seem impossible some days. Eventually you’ll get through this, but you will never be made whole again. Years will pass where you’ll still read inaccurate stories and bogus accusations about your emails. You will wonder what you could have done to prevent this life-changing leak.
We can’t change the past; but we can try to prevent these kinds of assaults to our privacy from repeating again and again. We can enlighten the American public about fundamental rights of privacy. This too is an uphill battle, since our laws do not prevent or protect us from the harms of these unconstitutional searches and leaks of our private communications. No law-abiding citizen should be exploited in this manner: no Democrat, Republican, or Independent should ever endure what we have experienced.
What our story plays out on the international stage is an egregious violation. The stolen emails of two law-abiding citizens are being used for political mud slinging. These emails never should have been collected, cached, or published for public consumption. Our emails are nothing less than stolen property being viewed and critiqued without authorization or consent. The American public, including our members of the media and/or anyone that browses the web should not enable the crime and continue to eat fruit from the poisonous tree. Our privacy should not be so cavalierly invaded and exploited by politicized governmental actors, without consequence. As Americans, we need a reasonable assumption of privacy ― free from politically motivated snoopers and leakers. It all comes down to the fundamental and enduring truth, which was understood and enshrined by the Founding Fathers: privacy is necessary for liberty, but most importantly, for the protection of our democracy and integrity of our election.
Jill Kelley is a former Honorary Diplomat and the first Honorary Ambassador to the United States Central Command’s Coalition Forces. She is currently advocate, author and expert on privacy rights and internet security.