#PodestaEmails are NOT obvious fakes

Wikileaks globe-hourglass logoEmails are notoriously hard to validate. Emails are like typed, signed contracts with no section or page numbers: you can take out or add whatever pages you want as long as you keep the signatures.

Intelligence expert Malcom Nance has tweeted that Wikileaks’ recent collection of Podesta emails contain “obvious forgeries.” It is hard to detect emails forgeries in general, but easy to find obvious forgeries. For details, check out Chapter 15 of Elementary Information Security, my textbook.

I searched recent news reports highlighting specific Podesta emails. I looked at about a dozen of those emails, plus similar “unimportant” emails. I checked the email delivery data for tampering or forgery. The email headers look correct. Thus there are no “obvious forgeries.”


I’m not a political pundit and I can’t tell the world whether the so-called “top emails” have any significance in the current election.

Like my earlier review of the Clinton email server, I’m trying to focus on the narrow technical issues here and not draw explicitly political conclusions.

The examination

Here is how I examined the emails:

  1. I found a couple of articles highlighting Podesta emails: a list of “ten worst” from RT.com, and a list of “top Podesta emails” from thegatewaypundit.com.
  2. I searched the articles for specific email citations. This was harder than it sounds. While both articles tout the emails, many of the “top email” descriptions don’t actually refer to particular emails. Links and searches uncovered a dozen emails.
  3. For each email, I checked the “Received” headers for plausibility. Most email clients hide these when displaying the emails. The headers track the email as it travels between servers from sender to recipient. This is where an obvious forgery arises.
  4. I accounted for variations in the headers based on how the email system works, and by referring to the headers in similar, less significant emails.

The conclusion

Every header I examined looks legitimate. There are no obvious forgeries.

How can we really verify the email contents?

We can conclusively verify the emails by asking the authors to attest for their accuracy. This has happened for some email contents.

Otherwise, we can’t tell if someone modified individual emails or manufactured them completely.

I do not understand why Mr. Nance declared the Podesta emails to be “obvious forgeries.”


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