Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The White House email controversy: get ready for the hearings


By David Gewirtz

Even though Where Have All The Emails Gone? is finally out, that doesn't mean the story of White House email is over. Far from it. In fact, this week saw a number of new developments in Washington. In this article, I'll give you an overview of the latest developments as well as my analysis.

Let's bring you up to date. Back in November, U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy ordered defendants to preserve all back-ups in the "possess[ion of EOP] or under their custody or control."

"Both the judge and the Oversight Committee seems to be completely overlooking the vast amount of White House email not managed by the White House."

Last month, the White House acknowledged "recycling" backup tapes that may have contained missing email messages, in effect overwriting the much sought-after data. This was in response to a court order demanding White House disclosure. Specifically, the court asked:

  • Are the back-ups catalogued, labeled or otherwise identified to indicate the period of time they cover?
  • Are the back-ups catalogued, labeled or otherwise identified to indicate the data contained therein?
  • Do the back-ups contain emails written and received between 2003-2005?
  • Do the back-ups contain the emails said to be missing that are the subject of this lawsuit?

It turns out the White House has filed a response to to the court that contains a very detailed and credible level of detail.

As you know, in my investigation I generally only like to link to government-provided documents, since they are considered valid first-party source material. While I haven't been able to find a government-provided version of the response, I was able to find a PDF of the full statement located on a site operated by one of the organizations filing the lawsuits.

This White House response PDF is the most detailed overview of White House IT and backups we've seen.

Specifically, it confirms the use of Exchange servers, mentions using journaled .pst files as part of the backup strategy, confirms backups to tape, and describes the network at the Executive Office of the President as having "3000 users and customers, in excess of 200 servers, and over 100 applications."

Theresa Payton, Chief Information Officer, Office of Administration, Executive Office of the President states that she believes there are intact backups from the period between 2003-2005. However, she also states: