Posted: 1:27 am ET
After making waves for saying “Her people have been trying to pin it on me,” former Secretary of State Colin Powell is done talking about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails and is not commenting anymore on it.
For those too young to remember this — there was a time, not too long ago when the State Department communicated via teletype machines (with paper tape), similar to the one below. You draft your cables on a Wang computer, give it to the local secretary to convert the document, and then she (almost always a she) runs it through the teletype machine for transmission to Main State and other diplomatic posts overseas. If I remember right, State had some creative IT folks who hooked up a DOS computer to the teletype machine so conversion was possible. You still had to print it out and it still took a lot of trees.
Image via Open Tech School
When Colin Powell came to the State Department in 2001, the State Department was still using the Wang machine similar to the one below. They were either stand alone machines or were connected via a local area network and hooked up to a gigantic magnetic disc. If post was lucky, it got one computer also hook up for email. Otherwise, you have a Selectric typewriter and a weekly diplomatic pouch.
Here is retired FSO Pater Van Buren with a look at technology at State during the Powell era.
When the rest of the world was working on PCs and using then-modern software in their offices, State clung to an old, clunky mainframe system made by the now-defunct company WANG. WANG’s version of a word processor was only a basic text editor with no font or formatting tools. Spell check was an option many locations did not have installed. IBM had bid on a contract to move State to PCs in 1990, but was rejected in favor of a renewal of the WANG mainframes.
Until Powell demanded the change, internet at State was limited to stand-alone, dial up access that had to be procured locally. Offices had, if they were lucky, one stand alone PC off in the corner connected to a noisy modem. If you wanted to use it, you needed in most cases to stand in line and wait your turn.
The way I see it, there’s about a 99.9 percent probability that he discussed his signature accomplishment at State with her, and cited his own limited, almost experimental, use of an AOL email account, as an example of how to break down the technical, security, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers that still plague the State Department today.
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