About nine months or so ago, I wrote a post for our Politics and the Economy forum titled "'Lost' White House Emails Will Turn Up." In the thread, I was arguing that it's inconceivable that an operation with the resources and regulations of the White House's level would be able to lose emails.
First, consider that the five million missing White House emails were said to be casualties of a conversion from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook, which is a fairly routine business event (even outside of the heightened regulatory requirements concerning presidential records) that starts with “Step One: Back up everything (including the backup).”
Common sense, right? I then concluded that anyone with any level of technical competency would know that the explanations given at the time for "losing" the emails simply didn't compute, without even going into the blatant criminality that would have to be in play to actually destroy electronic evidence in this way. My prediction was, they're on a backup tape somewhere, they'll turn up. As Senator Pat Leahy says, it was a choice between "the dog ate my homework" and the Nixonian 18-minute gap, and I didn't want to believe that anyone would be either that criminally incompetent, or that criminal.
It looks like I may have been mistaken. Maybe, as our friend rbrooku pointed out, "the criminality hidden is considerably worse than the criminality of destroying evidence."
Looking at this unfolding mess, I do think it's more than a little coincidental that the emails in question concern the run up to the war in Iraq -- a coincidence that is "potentially more troubling from a historian's view" and of "intense interest" to historians, according to a recent Time story.
I for one share the "intense interest" of my historian colleagues as to why we're not getting a better explanation for "16 days of e-mails that were reported missing from the office of Dick Cheney, widely regarded as the most influential vice president in U.S. history, and the 12 days missing from the White House Office (WHO)."
The story goes on to say that the emails disappeared during "an apparently tense period for Bush in which everyone from his secretary of state to CIA chief publicly backed off earlier intelligence estimates of al-Qaeda's influence and the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
According to the watchdog group CREW, this was a pretty significant time period for other reasons as well:
"The deletion of millions of email beginning in March 2003 coupled with the White House’s destruction of back-up copies of those deleted email mean that there are no back-up copies of emails deleted during the period March 2003 through October 2003. The significance of this time-period cannot be overstated: the U.S. went to war with Iraq, top White House officials leaked the covert identity of Valerie Plame Wilson and the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into their actions."
And according to the White House press office, the story now is that they re-used their backup tapes, and even the disaster recovery tapes have days and days of emails that are just...gone.
I guess I should have known better than to expect anything even remotely approaching competence -- much less transparency -- on the part of this administration. Not only did they violate every rule in the IT rulebook (if this was a public company, the SarbOx violations alone would probably land our first "CEO president" in jail) but they didn't even have a legitimate disaster recovery system (not surprising considering this administration's propensity for disasters, both policy and natural).
I apologize if I sound a little angry here, but it strikes me as the basest of hypocrisy that the same government that can require upstanding, hardworking businesspeople to labor under onerous reporting regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley can then turn around and play dumb about saving sensitive email traffic, and play us for fools in the process.