Sunday, April 1, 2007

Technical analysis: the White House email controversy


By David Gewirtz

Over the past few weeks, it's come to America's attention that some emails from the White House have gone missing. As the publisher of two of the largest publications dedicated to email and electronic communication, OutlookPower Magazine and DominoPower Magazine, ZATZ is investigating this issue. Our goal is to make clear the technical elements of the discussion. We are strictly publishers of technical information, so we're going to do our best to completely avoid the political discussion.

Let's start by understanding exactly what's going on. Karl Rove is Deputy White House Chief of Staff to U.S. President George W. Bush. As part of the ongoing (and highly political) investigation into the firing of eight United States Attorneys, it was discovered that many email messages sent by Mr. Rove allegedly had not been archived -- and therefore couldn't be examined for the purposes of the investigation.

It's now come out that there's possibly five million or more emails missing, and they may include emails missing off government servers in addition to emails missing off servers operated by the Republican National Committee.

Our extended technical analysis has uncovered some concerns about unsecured email communications that might effect national security, transitions in server technology during a time of war that might have caused both communications interruptions and historical records loss, and data management practices that seriously question the technical email infrastructure being used by the Executive Office of the President.

It should be noted that because we publish the leading publications for both Microsoft Outlook and IBM Lotus Notes, the email technologies used and in question at the White House, we are uniquely suited to conduct this investigation. It's unlikely any other publication possesses either the depth of knowledge on both of these technologies or has nearly the level of access to the leading technical experts for both systems.

The law behind it all

To understand why this is an issue, you must first understand a few laws that lay the groundwork for all the fuss. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 requires that:

...the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented and that such records are maintained as Presidential records...

Because the Act specifically defines "documentary material" to include correspondence and memorandums, and because the law also specifies "or other electronic or mechanical recordations", emails conducted as part of presidential business fall under the Presidential Records Act.

Bottom line: The adminstration is required to keep copies of all emails.