Donald Trump and his surrogates spent much of the weekend marveling over the FBI’s ability to look through more than 650,000 emails from a laptop shared by top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and conclude that they not affect their decision not to prosecute Clinton.
Specifically, they don’t think it’s humanly possible to review that many emails in the eight days that transpired between FBI director James Comey’s initial announcement that the emails were being reviewed and his subsequent all-clear on Sunday.
Trump made this complaint at a rally on Sunday night, saying it was proof the system was “rigged.”
“You can’t review 650,000 new emails in eight days,” he said. “You can’t do it, folks.” His allies said the same thing.
Trump and Co. are right. It’s not humanly possible. Which begs the question: How exactly do these people think digital forensics operations are carried out?
Do they think each email is diligently printed out by clerks who then carry them over, page by page, to waiting analysts? An email a second would be a rather impressive rate in that case.
I’m a little at a loss as to how to respond to this other than to say, “It’s 2016.” We’ve gotten very good at indexing and searching files. I found the receipt for my 2009 Halloween costume just by putting the words “Amazon Spock ears” into my Gmail search.
Actually analyzing the e-mails’ content might not have been even necessary. An NBC News report cited an anonymous source as claiming most of Abedin’s e-mails were identical to emails the investigation had previously examined. If that’s true, there are multiple ways the FBI could have simply eliminated the duplicates from consideration, leaving a much smaller pool of messages to go through.
The most accurate of these methods would probably be to create what’s called a “cryptographic hash” of every email in the original Clinton set and the Abedin set and then subtract them to see what remains. Hashing the e-mails will reduce every message to a 32-character-long string of characters. Two e-mails with the same contents will always create the same hash, making it an easy way to compare each one for duplicates.
Jeff Jarvis (the real one, not the sequel), tweeted at none other than Edward Snowden asking about how he would analyze the emails, and Snowden replied with the same hashing idea.
It sounds like this Edward Snowden fellow is pretty good at cyber! It also sounds like Donald Trump and his associates are bad at it.