Sunday, March 23, 2008

White House "Disappears" More Emails

Seriously, this is now starting to creep into the realm of criminal negligence. On Thursday, the White House disclosed that it destroyed thousands of computer hard drives which may have contained old email records that the courts are ordering it to turn over. Money quote:
Older White House computer hard drives have been destroyed, the White House disclosed to a federal court Friday in a controversy over millions of possibly missing e-mails from 2003 to 2005.

The White House revealed new information about how it handles its computers in an effort to persuade a federal magistrate it would be fruitless to undertake an e-mail recovery plan that the court proposed.

Apparently the White House recycles 1/3 of its hard drives every year or so, and any hard drives which may have contained the missing emails that the court is seeking are long since gone.

Now, taken by itself, this really wouldn't be too out of place. As anyone who works for a large organization knows, IT support is a disaster, and it's usually easier to just get a new computer than it is to fix the old one. That being said, it's awfully convenien, isn't it? For those who may be unfamiliar with the chain of events:

In late 2006, several federal prosecutors (USAs for short) were unexpectedly asked to resign, despite extremely successful careers and spotless reputations. One of them didn't go quietly, and accused White House political advisor Karl Rove of meddling for political purposes. Some intrepid reporters started digging, and uncovered an avalanche of circumstancial evidence, along with quite a few personal accounts, that the USAs were forced out because they refused to file trumped up felony charges against Democratic incumbents a month or two before the election. If true, that would have been a felony with MAJOR jail time. Here's where it starts to get interesting:

Even after almost a year and a half, we STILL don't know who first put the names of those USAs on the firing list. The person who took the fall was a low-level political appointee who broke down in tears when she "confessed"; the idea that she single-handedly chose and implemented the firings of prosecutors who report directly to the Attorney General is ludicrous, and a federal court ordered the White House to turn over any emails to, from, or copied to Karl Rove that related to the firings of the USAs.

First, the White House tried to claim executive priviledge on the grounds that anything said by anyone who has talked to the president at anytime is secret. That backfired when we learned that the White House was actually using Republican National Committee servers (an exlicitly purely political group) to help send emails.

Second, the RNC tried to claim that they couldn't turn over the emails because the president had ordered them not to. When a federal judge threatened to revoke the RNC's tax exempt status, the story suddenly changed, and it appeared that somehow all traces of the offending emails had been removed from each and every server in the RNC network, which is, from an IT perspective, a rather incredible claim.

Third, after the RNC route was exhausted, the courts turned back to the White House itself. The emails first had to go through White House servers before they hit the RNC servers, so the court instructed the White House to look at them. By miraculous coincidence, those servers had been wiped as well, and any emails from Karl Rove from 2003 to 2005 weren't in them anymore. Huh, imagine that!

Fourth: The White House is required, by federal law, to have physical backup copies of each and every email that's sent. Under the Clinton administration, a procedure to record, backup, and archive all correspondence on physical tape was implemented, and as far as anyone knew, was still operational. Well, actually, it wasn't. The White House, in its infinite wisdom, decided to "upgrade" the system, and replaced it with one that, by their own admission, doesn't work (which, incidentally, is still in use today). And, would you believe it, it wasn't capturing Karl Rove's emails during that time either!

So finally, we come to the court's fifth and final attempt: the actual computers themselves, which brings us full circle to the story just reported on this week, that the machines have been destroyed.

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