What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

Summary: Although it's up to substantial debate whether or not Mitt Romney is the most qualified to be our next president, one thing is sure: he's certainly acting like most other presidents in his desire to hide or destroy email records.

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It sounds like something out of my White House email reports. A politician, leaving office, has ordered email messages destroyed and hard drives wiped.

This is issue was brought to my attention a few days ago by a reader, but the Thanksgiving holiday kind of distracted me from the attention it was due. But yesterday, fellow Internet Press Guild member Sharon Fisher wrote an article describing how Mitt Romney had destroyed computer data when he left the Governor's office in Massachusetts.

Why would Romney, a leading GOP presidential candidate, go out of his way to destroy information after leaving office? What is he trying to hide?

This, sadly, is not as exciting a story as it might be, because while Romney clearly wanted to keep some information confidential, he's far from the first politician to unapologetically try to destroy information from his administration.

In fact, when I wrote Where Have All The Emails Gone? (free download) about the Bush Administration's 5 million missing email messages, one of the most disturbing facts I discovered was that all presidents have tried to hide or destroy their messages.

Ever since there was White House email, presidents have been particularly unhappy about the preservation of email traffic. This goes all the way back to President Reagan, and if you think this is unique to the Republicans, think again. When Bill Clinton left office, then Senior Advisor on Policy and Strategy George Stephanopolous was quoted in the May 18, 1993 issue of The Washington Post as saying, "Like Bush's White House, the Clinton White House does not want a succeeding, potentially unfriendly administration pawing through its computer memos."

George was, of course, talking about the original Bush Administration, but the phrase "pawing through its computer memos" is the most instructive. This is how most administrations, whether federal or state, feel about computer records and email messages. They think first of their own legacies and about political positioning, rather than about America's right to transparency and historical record.

Although it's up to substantial debate whether or not Mitt Romney is the most qualified to be our next president, one thing is sure: he's certainly acting like most other presidents in his desire to hide or destroy email records.

And you wonder why I have so little regard for politicians. All politicians.

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Collaboration

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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28 comments
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  • Why only point out republicans

    Not only did the Clinton administration delete many documents, they also ripped the W key right off many keyboards.
    zmud
    • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

      @zmud I don't get it?
      branrules101
      • "respectfully, your President

        @branrules101

        George [b]W[/b] Bush"
        William Farrell
      • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

        @branrules101 Yeah, they pulled the "W" key off a bunch of keyboards as a joke/prank.
        dsf3g
      • I get it

        When a Democrat vandalizes government property, it's just a prank.
        baggins_z
      • Baggins_z: Nobody's condoning the practice

        It's wrong no matter who does it, but it's hard to hold anyone accoutable for it, if the responsible parties leave government employment as soon as it happens, probably never to return, except possibly as a member of the staff of another politician of the same party.

        It was wrong when President Clinton's staffers did it. It was also wrong when President Bush's staffers did it.
        John L. Ries
      • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

        @branrules101 The W thing is a story that got embellished way beyond anything that actually happened. Research by GAO showed no more 'damage' to equipment than would normally be expected by the amount of usage they had. http://www.salon.com/2001/05/23/vandals/
        boomchuck1
    • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

      @zmud

      No, it didn't. Urban myth.
      Potoroo
  • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

    If I want to read about politics I go to drudgereport,.... Stop bashing and start working on tech news/articles
    josephvba@...
    • Gun to head?

      @josephvba@... I like his mix of tech and politics.

      He didn't force you to read anything.
      People
    • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

      @josephvba@...
      No one is forcing you to read David's posts, so bugger off. I for one find them interesting.
      tora201
    • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

      @josephvba@...

      So, you came to the ZDNet Government blog to not read about politics? Sounds like the problem is with you, not David.
      swmace
    • Did you even bother to read

      @josephvba@...
      The title of this particular blog is <b>ZDNet Government</b> and this article is most definitely about the confluence of tech and government. If you don't want to read about politics, then don't read a political blog!

      Although with your astute observation of, and complaints about, the painfully obvious I suspect you are a potential candidate trying to head off the train wreck that most candidates find themselves in when they complain about the obvious rather than doing something easy and sensible (like not reading) about it.
      use_what_works_4_U
    • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

      @josephvba@...

      Actually maintenance of e-mail accountability is tech, it is important, and David is actually a technical expert in the field. His book on W.'s e-mail reset is actually a pretty decent read. Download it and give it a try. It's not very long.
      tkejlboom
    • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

      @josephvba@... This isn't new--apparently the n00bs at See-BS think so (on a Republican?) as ZDNet has gotten much more gratuitously political since See-BS bought them.
      jabster17
  • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

    uhhh... I protect all my info and make sure no one has access to anything.. dispose of old emails and such and I'm not even a politician. I expect all politicians to be security conscious.. I don't see the point in pointing this out.<br><br>And this is from a Registered Republican that in no way will ever back Romney, the guys a joke and its just the Democrat loving media thats trying to force him on everyone and convince voters they have no choice.
    doh123
    • And who were you planning on voting for...

      @doh123
      ...if Mr. Romney gets the nomination?
      John L. Ries
    • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

      @doh123 There is a serious issue here of public records. Nobody really cares what you do with your email, but email in government situations is a different issue. All of it is subject to public disclosure. I can understand why someone might not want the email chatter of their jobs being made public, but if that is the case then they shouldn't be using their government email.
      boomchuck1
    • RE: What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?

      @doh123

      I'd be a bit surprised if Massachusetts didn't have a law protecting those e-mails. Legal keeps copies of ALL of HP's e-mails. Yeah, you encrypt your Touchpad, and you wipe it before you give it to your niece, but you don't eliminate every copy. If you deliberately tried to erase your e-mail trail in a major corporation, you'd be fired. It would probably be pointless as legal and IT are duping everything as they hit the exchange server, but it's definitely grounds for dismissal.
      tkejlboom
  • Let me remake the suggestion

    White House computer operations should be handled by the GSA, not the White House staff. Staffers have, for several generations, been political operatives primarily concerned with partisanship and protecting the boss' image, so every time we change administrations, we have a shredding party, no matter what the law says. And since the White House staff leave when the President's term is up, there is no incentive for it to be otherwise.<br><br>Our bureaucrats deserve some of the flack they get from us citizens, but following procedures and getting along with politicians regardless of party are a couple of the things they're good at. Having career civil servants in charge of White House computing operations would at least insure some continuity, and eliminate the sorts of transition idiocies that have become customary. And if the President doesn't like his sysadmin, he can always order the GSA to send him a new one.
    John L. Ries