White House official details email hole

The White House was running a "primitive" email archiving system with a high risk of losing data, a computer expert who worked on the system told the House Oversight Committee.In a memo to committee members (PDF), Congressional staffers detailed a mind-boggling scenario that smacks of willful violation of laws requiring presidential email archiving, IT incompetence and a strong whiff of intentional destruction of evidence.

The White House was running a "primitive" email archiving system with a high risk of losing data, a computer expert who worked on the system told the House Oversight Committee. In a memo to committee members (PDF), Congressional staffers detailed a mind-boggling scenario that smacks of willful violation of laws requiring presidential email archiving, IT incompetence and a strong whiff of intentional destruction of evidence. As revealed earlier, the Bush White House junked the Automatic Records Management System used (under court order) by the Clinton White House and replaced it with very little indeed. According to Stephen McDevitt, an official in the presidential CIO office, the " process by which email was being collected and retained was primitive and the risk that data would be lost was high."

That so-called system was rife with security issues. "ln mid-2005 ... a critical security issue was identified and corrected. During this period it was discovered that the file servers and the file directories used to store the retained email ... were accessible by everyone on the EOP network," congressional staff reported.

The National Archives tried repeatedly and failed to get the White House to comply with archival regulations. Allen Weinstein, the Archivist, wrote to his general counsel: " we still have made almost zero progress in actually moving ahead with the important and necessary work that is required for a successful transition. ... [O]ur repeated requests ... have gone unheeded. ... Of most importance, we still know virtually nothing about the status of the alleged missing White House e-mails."

Beyond all this, McDevitt told the committee that a new e-mail archiving system that would have addressed the problems was "ready to go live" on Aug. 21, 2006. But CIO Theresa Payton canceled the new system in 2006 because it would have "required modifications and additional spending," the AP reported.

Carlos Solari, Payton's predecessor, told the House committee that he was puzzled that the new system had been rejected and that he had "absolutely" believed that the system Payton rejected would be implemented.

Committee chairman Henry Waxman was outraged.

"This is a form of sandbagging." By the time the problem is fixed, "you'll be out of office."

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