Friday, January 23, 2009

Lost Found Lost in the Shuffle

Here's something that escaped my notice last week: During the flurry of the final days of the Bush Administration, those millions of missing White House email messages (remember those?) were apparently found.

A Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge yesterday that the Bush administration will meet its legal requirement to transfer e-mails to the National Archives after spending more than $10 million to locate 14 million e-mails reported missing four years ago from White House computer files.

Or not.

The emails at issue are from periods that will be crucial in assessing the Bush legacy, including the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and Pat Fitzgerald's probe of the Valerie plame leak. We'll know more about just how much has been preserved by next Tuesday or Wednesday, when the records will be transferred to the National Archives.

But it doesn't sound like we'll get everything. The new email system that the White House switched to four years ago allowed all staff members to access storage files and delete messages -- unlike the previous system, which was designed to preserve all messages containing official business. Fuchs said that the White House has still declined to make a forensic copy of the records, so any emails that were deleted likely won't be recovered. And since we're talking about millions of emails, it may be impossible to know what we don't have.

The National Security Archive has a comprehensive timeline of this whole mess, with tons of links. Among the highlights:

Late 2001 to early 2002: White House dismantles the Automated Records Management System (ARMS) put in place by Clinton Administration to archive e-mails.

January 3, 2003: Start date of period of missing e-mails.

July 28, 2005: Last day listed in 2005 Report with either zero e-mail (“Red Days"), or suspiciously low e-mail tallies (“Yellow Days”) within the day’s e-mail archive.

October 2005: Office of Administration discovers that some e-mail may not have been archived properly. OA’s detailed analysis later revealed hundreds of days between January 3, 2003, and July 28, 2005, when e-mails were missing for one or more EOP components, totaling approximately 5 million.

The next three years on the timeline are filled with an exhausting list of FOIA requests and lawsuits filed by the National Security Archive and the watchdog group CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), as well as Congressional subpoenas, all of which the Bush White House responded to by stalling, filing motions to dismiss, or flat-out ignoring. Bush spokespeople variously deny any emails have been lost, or assert that there's no way to recover them, or say that they could possibly be recovered, but it's going to take a lot of time and money. This goes on until last week, whereupon the Bushies insist that they have delivered tapes containing "all" of the email messages to the National Security Archive.

Long story short: the Bush Administration appears to have committed crimes to cover up the commission of other crimes, and when caught out in the end, delivered a giant field filled with haystacks, all of them riddled with needles, challenging anyone who cares about accountability and the historical record to find the few that aren't there. By their standards, they no doubt count this as a success.

(Thanks for the links to Dan Tynan, whose blog post was the first thing I came across when it popped into my heads to check Google to see if there was any recent news on this whole sordid affair.)

1 comment:

Sornie said...

It seems that the past 8 years have more cover-ups and lies in them than some sort of crime or spy novel.