Bush deleted email archive system, recycled backup tapes

If I may give some props to the Times of London's Bugle podcast, the White House has finally embraced an environmental agenda by recycling data backup tapes. No need to clog up the works with dusty old emails about leaking Valerie Plame's name to reporters or planning for the Iraq war.

If I may give some props to the Times of London's Bugle podcast, the White House has finally embraced an environmental agenda by recycling data backup tapes. No need to clog up the works with dusty old emails about leaking Valerie Plame's name to reporters or planning for the Iraq war. No - recycling is the way to go!

The Washington Post reports that:

"From 2001 to 2003, the Bush White House also recorded over computer backup tapes that provided a last line of defense for preserving e-mails, even though a similar practice landed the Clinton administration in legal trouble.

As a result, several years' worth of electronic communication may have been lost, potentially including e-mails documenting administration actions in the run-up to the Iraq war.

And that's not at all. Oh, no, not at all. You see, government IT being what it is, the Clinton administration developed a custom email archiving system under court orders to archive email. But, presumably because they were repulsed by all things Clinton, the Bush Administration promptly scrapped that system and replaced it with ...

Uhh ... nothing? The upshot is that on some interesting days, all the emails have disappeared.

In the presidential offices, for example, not a single e-mail was archived on Dec. 17, 20 or 21 in 2003 -- the week after the capture of Saddam Hussein. According to the study summary that the committee released, e-mails were not archived for Vice President Cheney's office on four days in early October 2003, coinciding with the start of a Justice Department probe into the leak of a CIA officer's identity, which later led to criminal charges against Cheney's chief of staff.
But let's talk about Government IT. There used to be a system called Automated Records Management System (ARMS). That's government naming for you. If it were a Web 2.0 product, it would be called qweebo. Installed in 1994, ARMS didn't work too well and hundreds of thousands of Al Gore-related emails were lost. Is this because ARMS was government garbage or because someone was intentionally skipping archives?
The GAO report concluded that Gore's office "did not implement adequate records management practices to ensure that all e-mail records generated or received were preserved in accordance with applicable law and best practices." Linda Koontz, the director of information-management issues at the GAO and the author of the 2001 report, called the trouble with ARMS "a human interaction problem . . . from what we saw there was not a problem with the system itself at that point in time."

Clinton's team eventually solved whatever the problems were and ARMS was functioning properly at the end of the Clinton administration.

shortly after Bush took office, his administration began taking steps to phase out the system. White House technology officials proposed two different records-management systems as ARMS replacements in 2003 and 2004, but neither was adopted, according to administration documents submitted in court filings. White House spokesman Scott Stanzel would not comment on why ARMS was eliminated. The system was never replaced, according to court records and officials. Instead, after the White House switched its e-mail software from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange in 2002, the administration chose to rely on the Microsoft software to perform archiving functions.
ARMS was a record management system. When users tried to delete a message, a window popped up asking if the message was of historic or evidentiary import. If so, it was archived for preservation. Bush junked the system and didn't replace it. It was only in 2003 that the administration looked to the backup tapes as an archiving system.
"Disaster recovery is not the same thing as records retention," said Eugene Spafford, a professor of computer science and engineering at Purdue University. Spafford said backup tapes do not preserve all the e-mails generated in a day because they record a "snapshot" of a network that includes only the e-mails present at a given moment. The tape does not record those e-mails created and deleted between daily backups, he said, and besides, "You can have inadvertent failures . . . or individuals can purposely destroy contents or edit contents."

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