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White House Says Hard Drives Were Destroyed 411

Posted by kdawson
from the just-in-case dept.
wanderindiana brings us an update on the White House missing emails mess, which we have discussed before. It seems the hard drives of many White House computers are gone beyond the possibility of recovery. Is it unusual in your experience for, say, a corporate IT department to destroy hard drives by policy? "Older White House computer hard drives have been destroyed, the White House disclosed to a federal court Friday in a controversy over millions of possibly missing e-mails from 2003 to 2005. The White House revealed new information about how it handles its computers in an effort to persuade a federal magistrate it would be fruitless to undertake an e-mail recovery plan that the court proposed."
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White House Says Hard Drives Were Destroyed

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  • A way to check... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daimanta (1140543) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:02AM (#22835510) Journal
    What did they do with the harddrives? And why aren't there any backups? The IT staff either is malicious or highly incompetent.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:14AM (#22835542)
      The IT staff either is malicious or highly incompetent.

      Or following orders.
      • Not really the point (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Gription (1006467) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:30AM (#22835920)

        The IT staff either is malicious or highly incompetent.

        Or following orders.
        They were almost certainly following policy. The complaint here is that the data is missing/destroyed. The data is supposed to be retained by a backup solution. The hard drives are only a 'working area'. Sure the data is stored there while someone is actively using the computer but as soon as it leaves the person's desk it is now a security risk.

        The drives should be thoroughly wiped and then recycled or destroyed. That is good IT policy. I run the IT hardware division for my company that supplies and supports customer's computers. When any computer is repaired or replaced the old drive is dated, put into secure storage for a minimum of 30 days, and then DOD wiped, and then recycled or physically destroyed. (The magnets are really good for hanging things on cubical walls.)

        The reason our drives are 'aged' for 30 days is because we can't trust our customers to have a good backup. (or ANY backup...) The White House shouldn't have any issues with their backups so they have no reason to retain the drives. This brings us back to the backup question. The rule for a really secure backup methodology is, "Multiple methods of backup, and multiple media". About 10 years ago I saw an article in a trade journal (InfoWorld?) that quoted the statistic that after a catastrophic data loss, 15% of the time the backup method itself is found to be flawed. Having 2 methods of backup would reduce the chance of an unrecoverable flaw to 2.25% which is much more acceptable.

        The solution to the White House problem is the judicious use of pink slips. Fire any one who bowed to pressure and allowed this to happen. (or was incompetent enough to allow a flawed backup scheme...)
        • by Moryath (553296) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:05AM (#22836158)
          Given the amount of security-sensitive or financially-sensitive documentation on the computers, OF COURSE they should be destroyed, or else wiped beyond recovery.

          Read your regulations. HIPPA (medical record) regulations alone require the destruction of any data like that using national-security level tools. Either you break the drive itself, you push it through one hell of a magnetic field a certain number of times, or you use one hell of an overwriting tool that makes 16+ passes on the drive to ensure that traces of previous data are completely gone.

          This is a non-story, and the only reason it's being pushed time and again is as a kludge to try to attack Bush. I'll admit there are a hell of a lot of reasons to attack Bush (the bribery and scams over illegal immigration/amnesty alone!), but this one isn't it.
          • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:46AM (#22836392) Homepage
            Last year at RSA, I met the S, Adi Shamir on his way from a booth selling a 'drive destruction' solution that involved drilling a hole into the platter. Neither of us was impressed. The data is spread over the whole surface of the platter. Drilling a hole is not good enough.

            The other end of the trade show there was a company showing containers of metal shards. They had a shredder for disk drives. They have security clearances that allow them to shred drives with classified data. I have no direct knowledge of the drive disposal policy at the EOP, but I would expect that the NSA would require this as a matter of course. It is smart IT management.

            But the argument over the drives is somewhat irrelevant as we know for a fact that members of the administration were using the RNC mail servers to transact government business, specifically to avoid leaving a paper trail. In the process they directed emails containing the most secret, most confidential government discussions through the machines of a small company that has no security clearance, does not even have a security policy and used the same network resources and mail servers for other customers.

            The company concerned received the contract for the 2004 RNC convention. They would therefore have been an espionage target in any case. I would think that it is almost certain that multiple foreign powers have copies of the emails. Why don't we just call up the Iranian embassy and ask them nicely if they will share?

            • by Sosarian (39969) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @12:03PM (#22836790) Homepage
              I'd agree that for information such as top secret documents, drilling a hole is probably insufficient.

              However, for the average person, it's good enough as it raises the bar for recovery beyond simply plugging it it or simply repairing a part of the drive. Don't know why you need a product for it though, a 1/4" drillbit will go through the aluminum backside of most harddrives like butter.
          • by KenSeymour (81018) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @11:25AM (#22836580)
            Unlike HIPPA, which requires destruction of data, the White House is subject to the various laws mandating the preservation of all presidential records.

            This includes the Presidential Records Act [wikipedia.org] of 1978. This states that upon leaving office, white house documents become the property of the government. A different law, the Hatch Act [wikipedia.org], prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activities.

            In order to address the Hatch Act, about 88 people who work in the White House were given separate computers purchased by the Republican National Committee and given email addresses in the domain gwb43.com, georgewbush.com, and rnchq.org.

            It appears that White House staff consciously used the political equipment and email for some official business, presumably so that no "paper trail" would be left behind. Indeed, instead of a paper trail, in each case, the investigators requested relevant emails
            but it was found that those emails were handled on the RNC machines and thus were destroyed.

            So part of the legacy of the Bush Administration is a blueprint for obstruction of justice.

            I disagree that this is a non-story. I worry that this will now be added to the toolkit of future administrations. Every administration will thinks it knows best for the country and some will want to get around all these pesky laws.
            • by spineboy (22918) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @01:13PM (#22837200) Journal
              I'm fairly sure that a lot of damaging info to the current administration would be found on those drives.

              Privacy for ordinary citizens is a right, but our officials that WE ELECT, their job is our business and we should have the right to know what they do. If they've done nothing wrong, then why hide anything. This does not apply to citizens on ordinary, routine matters e.g. we should not have to voluntarily have our cars searched cause we're innocent.

              We elect our officials - they work for us, and therefore need to have accountability.
            • Employees whose salaries are paid from an appropriation for the Executive Office of the President have looser constraints on their participation in political activities than other federal employees (c.f. 5 USC 7324). However, this participation requires that costs associated with the activity not be paid for by funds derived from the United States Treasury.

              Thus sending partisan political communication through an external server is hardly in defiance of the law, but rather in compliance with the law. There
          • by jackpot777 (1159971) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @11:40AM (#22836664)
            HIPAA states that medical records must be held for years. Even after a patient dies, records could be audited up to two years after a patient's death.

            http://www.hipaadvisory.com/regs/recordretention.htm [hipaadvisory.com]

            There are many policies that facilities will be required to have based on the new HIPAA regulations. Facilities should consider having a policy that specifies how long to retain or keep the medical records. These are known as retention periods. Many states have their own state specific law. Many hospitals and other facilities have one policy that lists all records and documents in their facility and not just medical records. According to the proposed privacy regulation, documents relating to uses and disclosures, authorization forms, business partner contracts, notices of your information practice, responses to a patient who wants to amend or correct their information, the patient's statement of disagreement, and a complaint record must be maintained for 6 years. (See 64 Fed. Reg. 59994). This is the federal statute of limitation for civil penalties. (42 CFR Part 1003). It is the amendment why hospitals and other health care providers maintain medical records as well as billing records on Medicare (Title XVIII), Medicaid (Title XIX), and Maternal and Child Health (Title V) for at least 6 years. Records must also be retained for two years after a patient's death under HIPAA. The Medicare Conditions of Participation, section 42 CFR 482.24 (b), states that all hospitals must retain medical records in their original or legally produced form for a period of 5 years.

            Disclaimer: I am a document specialist for a company that itself specialized in business processes for major Part C and Part D health providers. So I know this stuff.

            So having you say this is a non-story, based on you citing that records must be adequately destroyed without first stressing that those destroyed records had to be on file, and available at a moment's notice, for YEARS, is disingenuous at best.

            It's a story PRECISELY because of th amount of time the records HAD to be retained.

            http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/21/AR2008012102070_pf.html [washingtonpost.com]

            The administration's e-mail policies have been repeatedly challenged by lawmakers and open-government groups, in congressional hearings and in court. Two groups, the National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, have accused the White House in lawsuits of violating the Federal Records Act because of what they say is its failure to preserve millions of e-mails, a charge the White House rejects.

            The White House's record-keeping problems have thrown new attention on a gap in statutory language covering the retention of presidential records.

            "If it is a presidential record, then it does need to be retained. It doesn't matter what the format is -- e-mails can be records," said Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the National Archives and Records Administration. But the agency has no power to intervene if an administration is not preserving presidential records, inadvertently or not, Cooper said.

            The law governing nonpresidential federal records is stronger. The National Archives can demand an explanation from any federal agency that it suspects is mishandling records, and it can request a Justice Department probe. Private parties can sue to force compliance with federal records laws, but not the presidential-records statute.

            So what happens if a probe is launched? Well, thanks to Sarbanes-Oxley (and the fuck up that was Enron, with BushCo's friend Kenneth Lay), Chapter 73 of USC18 (United States Code 18, Obstruction of Justice) was beefed up. Specifically Section 1505.

            1505. Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committee

          • by soren100 (63191) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @05:58PM (#22839098)

            This is a non-story, and the only reason it's being pushed time and again is as a kludge to try to attack Bush. I'll admit there are a hell of a lot of reasons to attack Bush (the bribery and scams over illegal immigration/amnesty alone!), but this one isn't it.
            This is either a troll or you're willfully ignorant, but I'll bite.

            The reason that this is a huge issue is that the destruction of presidential records is illegal. The Presidential Records Act [wikipedia.org] mandates that all records from the President and Vice President are owned by the public, and that the President is not allowed to destroy any records without specific authorization from the Archivist of the United States stating that the records do not have any historical, informational, or evidentiary value.

            There is a great desire on the part of many Americans to impeach Bush for his part in prosecuting the disastrous $2 Trillion+ debacle, the Iraq War, which is currently sinking our economy. Nixon wss easy to impeach because he left a lot of evidence in the form of tapes for his prosecution, but Bush and Cheney are not making that mistake -- they have both had very "convenient" situations where their records regarding among other things the Iraq War planning that have been "accidentally" destroyed.

            If the American people were to have more evidence about White House activities, there would be many more people joining Scooter Libby in jail, and we would find out more about things like "ex" gay prostitute Jeff Gannon's entries and exits at the White House [rawstory.com].
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by crmartin (98227)
          Except that companies have data retention policies that say when data can be destroyed, and increasingly often, when data must be destroyed.

          Now think about this context: you have very sensitive data (I wouldn't be surprised if this is TOP SECRET by aggregation even if no single piece is more than CONFIDENTIAL), with, say, daily incrementals and weekly full backups. And each item has to be labeled, numbered, inventoried, audited and stored in an expensive and bulky safe.

          Or shredded when it gets old.

          Sure eno
        • by Zooperman (1182761) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:45AM (#22836374)
          In a corporate environment that may be good IT policy... but in a government body, communications between individuals or departments are by definition the property of the people of the United States. Those communications should NOT be destroyed, now or ever. Once the current administration leaves office they should be transferred to the National Archives (unless deemed classified); just as the documents, tapes and videos of previous administrations were handled. There may have been incompetence involved, but at the very least this raises questions about accountability and suggests a cover-up; and the tinfoil hat-wearers out there already have enough conspiracy theory ammunition to last for the next 100 years as it is.
        • by sconeu (64226) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @11:36AM (#22836638) Homepage Journal
          The magnets are really good for hanging things on cubical walls

          What works best for hanging things on tetrahedral walls?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by kenh (9056)
          The local university does a DOD wipe of all hard drives in systems before they sell them as surplus, ensuring no data leaks out in a $30 P3 system.

          The local public school district (K-12) can not (by policy) allow a hard drive to get into thehands of anyone outside the shcool district. When we decommision/recycle a computer we DOD wipe the hard drives, remove them from the system, and then, if we don't need to use the drives as spare parts for other machines, they are sent out to be destroyed.

          This is nothin
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mikael (484)
          According to the LA Times, the Republican party in Washington had two separate E-mail systems - one for party communications, and another for government communications. This setup was implemented to avoid charges of using government money for political campaigns, except now they are being accused of using the private network to avoid federal record and disclosure rules.

          GOP-issued laptops now a White House headache [latimes.com]
        • by ukemike (956477) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @01:04PM (#22837144) Homepage
          The 1978 Presidential Records Act expressly forbids it. In fact this admission that they intentionally destroyed hard drives just adds to the evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the current administration. These crooks were also using Republican National Committee servers to conduct official Whitehouse business in order to skirt the record keeping requirements of the act. http://www.motherjones.com/washington_dispatch/2007/03/white_house_emails.html [motherjones.com]

          But the congress is gonna let them slide again, when they should impeach the bastards.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by houghi (78078)
        Nuremberg Defense [wikipedia.org]. Unfortunatly only for the military.
    • FTFA (Score:4, Informative)

      by The Mighty Buzzard (878441) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:32AM (#22835604)
      "When workstations are at the end of their lifecycle and retired ... the hard drives are generally sent offsite to another government entity for physical destruction,"

      That's standard practice, and required by law, for ANY government computers.
    • by innerweb (721995) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:46AM (#22835682)

      Most admins in most companies, including the white house, follow their orders from PHBs. I bet the admins in place are rather competent and following orders rather well. As in most things, follow the money and you find the culprit.

      Given that so much of the current administration is involved in cover ups and lies to the American public, how could this be viewed as surprising. These guys are very good at what they really do, and no, running a country is not it. The Presidency and the houses are merely tools for these people to get what they want accomplished. Be it laws that benefit them or an ego trip. I am not talking about Republicans or Democrats. Think about where the money comes from. Who backs these people?

      I know plenty of people who have gotten into politics because they wanted to serve their communities. I do not know anyone who has progressed beyond the local level without becoming tainted. As they go higher up into politics, they tend to pick up more debts. They make compromises. Name the last independent President.

      Politics is dirty. Power abuse is dirty. They go hand in hand for a very good reason. Most people who want power want it for a personal reason. They believe they are right, they are better, they can do better. Whatever the reason, they in their heart know they deserve it and are normally unwilling to accept hindrances they can secretly get past. They understand that to get what they want, they have to break the rules and lie sometimes. They become very good at getting away with it, or they never make it to the top. If you doubt this, take a look back at all of the politicians who have made it to the houses or the presidency.

      Look at work. Who makes it to the top without doing something along the way? Not to the first or second level, but to the top. Many people who want the job bad enough do what it takes to get the job and do unsavory things along the way. They like to keep those things secret. They get very good at it. Period. Or they would not be at the top.

      That is why transparency in politics is critical. That is why no communication or meeting in the government should ever be unrecorded. Maybe kept classified in a very few cases, but always permanently recorded. Let them sweat with the fear of impropriety as opposed to the fear of discovery. There will always be people who can go back in time to read or listen to transcripts. It is much more difficult to uncover hidden secrets.

      In case you can not tell, I inherently do not trust officials. Even those I know well. I know all to well about the hidden lives and deals many of them have. Even those with a golden heart get trapped. It is inevitable for most. They are trying to accomplish things they believe in (assuming they are of a good hear tin the first place) and little compromises are needed to get the job done. Little compromises beget bigger compromises. It is how politics works. Compromise. Unfortunately, some of these compromises are nasty little secrets, and they cause more nasty little secrets and bigger nasty secrets. Like a snowball. You can not tell the difference until they are discovered. It is what they do. Like actors, they put on a face and do not show their true will or fear. Most would never be elected if they did.

      So, the current group destroyed the evidence before it was asked for. They knew what was there. They knew what it could cause and they knew how to manipulate the rules to cover it up. Makes them pretty damn good at what they do. Yeah, the bosses knew what they were asking for. Did they break any laws? I do not know, but rest assured, this activity is completely in line with the rest of the actions of this administration and many other administrations. Secrets are the name of the power game.

      InnerWeb

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by owlnation (858981)

      The IT staff either is malicious or highly incompetent.
      There's a third option. In fact, the mostly likely explanation.

      The IT staff is malicious AND highly incompetent.
  • No it is not usual (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spiked_Three (626260) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:03AM (#22835514)
    "Is it unusual in your experience for, say, a corporate IT department to destroy hard drives by policy?"

    I worked on some projects involving email at the white house. The system tracks other things includuding gifts and snail mail.

    There are very specific rules and laws that must be followed and the million dollar consultants the white house pays to manage this stuff is very aware of those rules and laws.

    Any destruction of email by the white house is purely intentional, period.
    • by samurphy21 (193736) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:23AM (#22835568) Homepage
      Is it unusual in your experience for, say, a corporate IT department to destroy hard drives by policy?

      During my employ as a contractor with the Canadian Department of National Defence, it was standard for decomissioned (read: hellishly outdated) systems to be stripped of RAM and HD, by policy, before being sold off as a lot as surplus/scrap. The RAM and HD would then be sent to an industrial grade metal shredder at a larger nearby base for destruction.

      Granted, this was for workstation systems where no personal or private data was to be stored. Again, by policy. I'm unsure what the policy would be for servers where email was stored. Probably still destroy the physical hard drive, but the final backup tapes are more than likely to be kept under lock and key for eternity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by schwit1 (797399)
      I love it when people end their sentences with the word 'period', as if the OPINION is equivalent to Newton's laws.


      This issue wreaks of unbelievability, but it is possible that deleting the emails was not intentional. I've watched seconds from disaster enough times to know that the seemingly impossible is possible.

    • by Culture20 (968837)

      Is it unusual in your experience for, say, a corporate IT department to destroy hard drives by policy?

      It is so normal to do this in corporate IT that Dell, HP, et al allow companies to keep the hard drives after warranty "replacement", and gaussers [wikipedia.org] and physical HDD shredders [semshred.com] are commonly used, along with iron spikes and sledge hammers.

      There are also places that just wipe the drive ~3 times with alternating random data and zeros.

    • by v1 (525388)
      So at what point does the silliness of excuses stop and we start calling "destruction of evidence"?

    • Wrong question (Score:4, Informative)

      by DutchSter (150891) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:56AM (#22835738)
      "Is it unusual in your experience for, say, a corporate IT department to destroy hard drives by policy?"
      I don't think this is asking the right question as some other posters have alluded to. We're talking corporate IT departments versus a branch of the Federal Government. We're also talking about destruction of the only copy of a given piece of data rather than destruction of one of several means of storing it.

      It is absolutely usual for my corporate IT department to destroy hard drives by policy; but I work for a bank. I don't work for the government where I'm required by law to archive anything and everything. After a person no longer needs a workstation, the workstation is kept in a locked room for about 90 days just in case anything pops up (oh crap, I forgot to copy my personal folder over to my new machine!). After that, the drive is securely erased. If the machine is going to be redeployed to a new user we then load a fresh install of the OS onto it and it's put in another secured room and marked as "Available for Redeploy" in the asset database. If it's not going to be redeployed then the hard drive will be removed and run through a degaussing machine and then put in a pallet box to be picked up by our secure shredding company. The company will shred the drives on site and take the materials to be recycled.

      Servers are much the same way, except that by policy, we back servers up at least once a day. While the drive that originally contained the information may be long gone, the data lives on for whatever the normal retention policy is. For email I believe it's a year, unless there's a reason for that box to be kept indefinitely (e.g. if a notice of discovery has been received).

      So to answer the question posed in the story posting, yes it is normal for corporate IT departments to completely destroy hard drives, but that's not germane to the discussion. A better question would be "Is it normal for corporate IT departments to destroy hard drives by policy without any suitable forms of backup or other mechanisms to make sure any retention policies mandated by law or policy are enforced." Of course that's a lot longer than the original question and the Slashdot eds probably would have gotten lost and not posted the article! :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Bovarchist (782773)
      The article was about workstations, not servers. Yes, the data should be stored indefinitely, but not on the workstations. Workstation hdds SHOULD be destroyed at end of life.

      As for the 3-5 year old backup tapes that were taped over, I can see how that was pure incompetence. I'm not saying that there was no malicious intent, but I could certainly see how a simple mistake could be responsible. I've worked at places where placing a box of backup tapes on the wrong shelf was all it took to get years of d

  • Awesome! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WilyCoder (736280) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:05AM (#22835522)
    Awesome! Now arrest them for obstruction of Justice.
    • Not so fast... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by msauve (701917) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:21AM (#22835564)
      If they are arrested now, they can (and likely would be) pardoned.

      Much better to wait a year, when a new administration is in office, and then go after the lawbreakers.
      • Re:Not so fast... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by untaken_name (660789) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:32AM (#22835606) Homepage
        Much better to wait a year, when a new administration is in office, and then go after the lawbreakers.

        You're joking, right? I certainly hope so. You really think that a Clinton or McCain administration will do anything different from the current one? HAH. You are living in Candyland or something. No one makes it to that kind of power without toeing the line. Not anymore. We're poised for another 8 years of the Bush-Clinton dynasty. Things like this are only going to become more common and punishments less common...for those in power. The rest of us will continue to foot the bill, just as we always do. Let's all welcome the new boss, same as the old boss.
      • Re:Not so fast... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by houghi (78078) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:53AM (#22836080)
        Isn't it sad that you can not even go after the people who have done it when you catch them with both hands in the cookie jar AND telling you how nice the cookies are.
  • by unity100 (970058) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:05AM (#22835524) Homepage Journal
    this administration will go down in history as "administration of coincidences". coincidences they need happening at the exact nick of time.
    • by snl2587 (1177409)

      Especially when they were specifically asked to preserve the emails. Do they not care that they are public officials who warrant oversight?

      No, of course they don't. At least this is their final year.

    • it's better to have lucky generals than skillful generals


      Well, he'd loved this lot - skillful? no way. "Lucky?" definitely - though I doubt this is what he meant by luck

  • Heads MUST roll! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tastecicles (1153671)
    Destruction of GOVERNMENT PROPERTY, including OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS, which these emails clearly are, is a criminal offence in the UK and a Federal offence in the US. Someone pressed that button. That someone must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the Law and made an EXAMPLE OF. So must whoever told him to press that button.

    On a related note, I've heard absolutely nothing back from my written enquiry to the HMRC office here in Notitngham as to what of MY personal data is on the missing laptops and the miss
    • by Wm_K (761378) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:34AM (#22835614)
      This is the US you're talking about. I'm not trolling but I've been surprised by the lack of protests and resignations over such failed policy. A war based on false information, falling dollar, weakening economy, information getting destroyed, Katrina, etc. In old Europe, where I am from, governments would resign and write out new elections after such disastrous events. If they don't write out new elections they would be forced by countless protests from the public. In the US however people seem to fear being questioned about their patriotism when they publicly protest their government.
    • by ATMAvatar (648864) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:37AM (#22835642) Journal

      Here's the problem: The people who would be doing the prosecuting are the very same people who told the guy to press the button.

      We're unfortunately in a bit of a bind. The branch of government designated to enforce our laws has no regard for them, and the only other branch of government that could do something about it is too spineless and fractured by party politics to lift a finger.

      The current administration is trying real hard to out-do Nixon as the most criminal Presidency in our nation's history, and if anyone were to actually do some investigation into it, we may even find that it has been a success.

      • by jo42 (227475) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:53AM (#22836076) Homepage

        The current administration is trying real hard to out-do Nixon as the most criminal Presidency in our nation's history
        They surpassed Nixon in that regard years ago.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by FauxPasIII (75900)
          > They surpassed Nixon in that regard years ago.

          -nod- Nixon only illegally wiretapped one hotel, not the entire nation.
      • by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:06AM (#22836164) Journal
        Look, the DOJ will not investigate as they are republicans (total corruption within the party), so it is up to dems to do this. If they really wanted to investigate, they would call in Sibel Edmunds and put her before the senate or the house or both. But ALL of congress is trying to keep this quiet. Waxman and Clinton PROMISED her that if the dems took control of congress that they would help her. They lied (IMHO, this is why clinton is the weakest of the 3 candidates ). Apparently a number of dems promised her that. ALL OF THEM LIED. NONE HAVE DONE A DAMN THING. This shows that because we have allowed laws that pretty much limit this to a 2 party system, that nothing will happen. Currently, I do not see the dems as being as corrupt as the pubs. But the fact that they are giving a sham investigation into this WH's doings, says that they are wanting a "get out of jail free" card for future use. So, yeah, the old timer dems are not that much different than all the republicans.

        Is it any wonder that Americans are picking up on a man who says that he will change things while the old timer dems and nearly all of the pub party dislike him.
  • by MMC Monster (602931) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:21AM (#22835566)
    I would certainly hope that any Whitehouse hard drive that is decommissioned is utterly destroyed.

    The real question is why secure backups of email aren't part of the IT infrastructure.
    • I would hope that they aren't. Presidential archives are full of letters sent to and from the White House, and are retained for decades. What makes email any different? These hard drives should be backed up and put in the Bush archive. As Nixon demonstrated, this level of secrecy surrounding the President's actions is dangerous, and the destruction of hard drives sets a dangerous precedent.
  • But we don't throw them out, either. Where I work, all of the old equipment is sent to a company owned warehouse, because someone figured out the cost of just storing all of this equipment is lower than the cost of paying someone to recycle it (and then taking the risk that they pull confidential information off the machines.) And we have the desktops locked down, so there isn't even much interesting content on the drives.

    I suppose it's possible that the white house destroys them because they have a way t
  • I wouldn't like loosing my complete email history every three years. I guess most users would react the same. According to the article,

    "Some, but not necessarily all, of the data on old hard drives is moved to new computer hard drives"

    I cannot imagine a somewhat competent IT department having a hardware upgrade policy that would consistently result in loosing your documents or your email. So that would mean the emails should still be there - on the newer computers.
  • Banking (Score:3, Insightful)

    by renelicious (450403) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:35AM (#22835620)
    I work in IT in the banking industry and I can tell you that not only do we destroy hard drives we are basically required to do so by regulators.

    There is a recycling company that does it in our area and they work with a large number of banks and hospitals, etc.

    This may not be the reason for the lost emails, but I think destroying drives it a lot more common that many might think.
    • Re:Banking (Score:5, Informative)

      by malkavian (9512) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:41AM (#22835652) Homepage
      I work in the NHS, and we're required to do two things:
      1: Destroy hard drives comprehensively.
      2: Ensure that any data on them of a sensitive/clinical nature is kept on a secure backup (in clinical data, for 25 years).

      So, yes, destroying hard disks is a common thing. Now destroying DATA.. That's something else altogether.
      For sensitive government documents, there is no excuse. Destroying the data can be arrived at through two ways:

      1: Incompetence of the IT staff (with the amount of change control in a high profile environment such as high government/clinical, you'd have to be REALLY incompetent, and probably picked up way before this).
      2: Someone said "This data is embarrassing. Make it go away.".

      I'd say 2 was the most probable.
      • Actually, I'd have to disagree. Remember, It wasn't until Clinton came into office that the White House got a modern phone system. Governmental employees (much like academic ones) are notoriously techno-duufs. They, like professors, see the world as something attached to their special area of interest.

        Until you find some evidence of purpose (like say, stuffing papers in your socks), I'd have to go with incompetence.
  • by Average (648) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:37AM (#22835638)
    While the hard drives are destroyed, it shouldn't be too hard to determine what was on them. Recovering data is exactly why the administration has been so adamantly for "alternative interrogation techniques".
  • by bmo (77928) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:43AM (#22835660)
    Hey! where have we seen this excuse before?

    Smashing hard disks pisses off judges, and they write things like this:

    http://www.groklaw.net/articlebasic.php?story=20041021131512626 [groklaw.net]

    113. Late in the evening of April 29, 1997, Merkey returned a laptop computer to Novell. Upon inspection Novell discovered that the hard drive in the computer was smashed. That same computer and hard drive were offered as an exhibit and the court has personally inspected the computer.

    114. The hard drive of the laptop is a modular unit, easily removable from the computer.

    115. At trial the hard drive was removed and inspected by the court. It had the appearance of having been smashed with several blows from a hard object like a hammer.

    116. Merkey has offered no less than four different explanations of how the hard drive came to be smashed, pointing most of the blame to his children.

    117. One of his explanations is that he was so angry at the replevin that he threw the computer at Novell's door when he returned it. This explanation does not fly (like the computer allegedly did) for neither the computer carrying case nor the laptop bear any evidence of physical abuse or damage, though the hard drive, which ordinarily is mounted within the plastic shell of the computer, clearly has been smashed.

    The dog ate it! No, my KIDS smashed it...no...IT IS WHITE HOUSE POLICY! (Jon Lovitz Voice) Yeah, That's the ticket!

    --
    BMO
  • Spiking? (Score:3, Informative)

    by WPIDalamar (122110) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:43AM (#22835662) Homepage
    I've worked at two companies where hard drives were removed from computers before they were sent out for recycling.

    Then the company would physically destroy the drives... the low-budget company was a lot more fun then having them professionally destroyed.

    I've heard that the military calls this "Spiking" a drive as they drive a railroad spike through the platters. But who knows if that's true or not.
  • Not unusual at all (Score:4, Insightful)

    by szquirrel (140575) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:48AM (#22835692) Homepage
    Is it unusual in your experience for, say, a corporate IT department to destroy hard drives by policy?

    Can't speak for the White House, but I did work for a pharmaceutical company and they are very paranoid about information security.

    Any time we replaced a hard drive in anyone's computer, the old drive was wiped according to US Department of Defense clearing standard DOD 5220.22-M. This is a rather intensive operation, and plenty of old hard drives didn't survive it. Any drive that failed got chucked into a 55-gallon drum that sat next to the wiping station. When the drum was full it was taken to a scrap yard and two company employees watched as each drive was fed into a metal shredder, one drive at a time.

    I'm sure that anything capable of shredding a hard drive is very impressive to watch, but it's probably much less impressive after the 200th time you've seen it.
    • by memfrob (157990)

      I'm sure that anything capable of shredding a hard drive is very impressive to watch

      It's interesting, anyway [ssiworld.com]

      At a Previous Place of Employment(tm), breaking the high-security hard drives into pieces was only the first part. We were then required to submit the pieces to inspection from some contractor, and then the best part of all: Watching him submit them to thermite. From what I remember, not only did it melt the platters to slag, it also messed with the magnetics of any pieces that happened to surv

    • by Eudial (590661)

      Any time we replaced a hard drive in anyone's computer, the old drive was wiped according to US Department of Defense clearing standard DOD 5220.22-M. This is a rather intensive operation, and plenty of old hard drives didn't survive it. Any drive that failed got chucked into a 55-gallon drum that sat next to the wiping station. When the drum was full it was taken to a scrap yard and two company employees watched as each drive was fed into a metal shredder, one drive at a time.

      Funny part is that shredding a

  • Wikileaks reward (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcelrath (8027) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:58AM (#22835746) Homepage

    I think it's time for some leaks, and some incentives for leakers. Someone on the IT stuff must know what happened, how, and why, and I'd bet they have the documentation to prove it, if not the emails themselves.

    It's time such people did their patriotic duty, and come forward with what they know. Wikileaks.org exists now and is a great place to post such information anonymously. Will someone set up a reward fund for information leading to the conviction of the persons responsible for destroying records?

    Please, I beg you, save us from these criminals, and the criminals that will be encouraged to follow if they are allowed to get away with this. If ever your country needed you, it is now.

  • No backups? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Firas Zirie (1179357) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:00AM (#22835750)

    In the absence of a permanent archiving system, the White House has been archiving e-mails on White House servers since early in the administration. The White House says it does not know if any e-mails are missing, but is looking into the matter. It would be costly and time-consuming for the White House to institute an e-mail retrieval program that entails pulling data off each individual workstation, the court papers filed Friday state.
    God forbid they actually do some.... work! And why the hell do they not have a backup server for this stuff at the White House? This whole story is fishy to say the least.
  • I work for a big defense contractor we smoke all our hard disks in a magnetic pulse box and then disassemble them for recycling. Not unusual in my opinion - especially in this day and age - I still have all the hard disks I have ever had in a personal computer or laptop - never felt comfortable throwing them away even before identity theft and such became so commonplace.
  • by DnemoniX (31461) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:27AM (#22835910)
    I spent nearly a decade working for local government as the IT Director of a County. The long and short of this is that yes, this does happen as a matter of policy quite often and across many industries. I have noticed that so far many of the posts here treat data classifications with very broad strokes, however when you are working with in the government every bit of data has a classification and is part of what is called a retention schedule. Once the data has reached the end of it's retention schedule it can be destroyed, and no this is not destruction of Government Property or Data as somebody previously posted. It is more akin to tossing out the spoiled milk in the fridge than anything. However some data never expires, but if we had to keep every shred of every piece of data collected through normal day to day operations every tiny municipality in the nation would require multi-terrabyte storage arrays. Plain and simple house cleaning is required from time to time. I'm sure I might pick up a flame or two for that, but the point is if any data is past it's shelf life you can't get pissed or cry foul if it is purged. Now I am not saying that is the case here at all, because I doubt that myself very much, I'm just laying out the framework.

    Now for the physical destruction of hard drives, yup did it all the time. Granted 99% of those were workstation drives and not server hardware unless all of the data had been migrated. Our general policy though was that no drive ever left us intact. Equipment that was later donated came sans hard drives. The drives were usually disassembled and the platters destroyed. It was much more easy on the man hours than sitting there watching a drive over write to Government specifications. The same was done for backup tapes that had physically failed, those were melted down, others stored in vaults untile the data expired and then they were destroyed.
  • In a lot of places its standard practice.
  • At my office, we just finally got rid of several computers that were cluttering up my floor. The hard drives were destroyed.

    We blowtorched holes through them. Also see: Drills.

    A friend of mine favors the shotgun method.
  • by boombasticman (1232962) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:48AM (#22836040) Journal
    Ask the chinese crackers! They would probably have a backup of the lost whitehouse mails.
  • For not starting impeachment hearings. For not demanding an independent investigation. This is truly awful. I've been thinking of moving to Singapore since you actually get some security and solid business growth for the lack of freedom.
  • Not for a corporate IT department, but for a place dealing with national security.

    Which, of course, the White House is.

    Back when I used to work with the Three Letter Agencies, disk drives could be erased in one of two accepted ways: send them back to the TLA for destruction (they ran them through a ball mill), or if you were in a hurry, take them to an open field and set off a thermite grenade in them.

    The thermite grenade was more fun, but made the fire marshall techy.

    What's more, guaranteed erasure is incr
  • by SirKron (112214) <<brian.kronberg> <at> <gmail.com>> on Sunday March 23, 2008 @11:06AM (#22836486)
    I do not see how this is a debate. If the IT policy dictates that the data is within a recoverable period, then produce the data. If you cannot, then whoever is responsible for said recovery is guilty of "Failure to obey a lawful order or regulation", Article 92, and "Noncompliance with procedural rules", Article 98, of the UCMJ [wikipedia.org]. Plain and simple.

    The admin maybe guilty of "Dereliction of Duty [wikipedia.org]" if the drive was destroyed to early, but the CIO is responsible for the data retention policy.
  • In a word... (Score:3, Informative)

    by ocbwilg (259828) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @12:01PM (#22836778)
    Is it unusual in your experience for, say, a corporate IT department to destroy hard drives by policy?

    No. It's not unusual at all, especially if those hard drives have held confidential information like people's medical or financial info. If there's a chance that they once held state secrets, then definitely. Anything less would be incompetence.

    The only real question is what constitutes "destroyed." At medical or financial facilities a disk wiping utility that overwrites the disks with 1s and 0s ten or twenty times is usually secure enough to do the job. If you're dealing with state secrets, then shredding the disk platters is more appropriate.
  • I call bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by scubamage (727538) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @12:18PM (#22836864)
    So, this policy violates data retention laws that THIS ADMINISTRATION pushed through. Also, it violates the presidential records act. But, I'm guessing this will be yet another thing John Q Public ignores because they're too busy watching Dancin with the Stars and American Idol to care - bread and circuses.
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @12:49PM (#22837046)
    So long as they can speak, there will always be some argument trying to raise a reasonable doubt, and while we waste time beating our heads against the Bill'Os and Rushes of the world, the world continues to burn and disintegrate. Look at how much damage one smiling, soft-shoe psychopath can inflict upon the world in under eight years. Hundreds of thousands of war dead (for no good reason), an economy brought to the verge of total collapse, and all the works in place to start rounding people into barbed wire enclosures. And people are still arguing in defense of this president! Those same people will be blaming communism and hippies even if it is discovered that we are killing our minorities in gas chambers. You know I'm right.


    But here's the thing I'm seeing over and over again in all of this; It doesn't matter what the politicos do, there simply isn't any agency through which the public can enact a change. How do you impeach a president? How do you put a Cheney in prison? Which government agency do you call to arrest the government? Only the densest and/or most deeply committed evil-doers will defend this government, so why is it still in power?

    The congress does nothing, which implies that they either don't want to do anything, or they cannot. There are many reasons for this, but the fact that we've watched a fraudulent election take place, among numerous other crimes suggests that they are locked up. Black mail. Stupidity. Evil. Whatever, that avenue clearly doesn't work.

    Which leaves what? A Washington city cop making an arrest on Whitehouse property?

    In the end, we're talking about a government which is little different than some tin pot dictatorship. People keep waiting for somebody to do something and it keeps not happening.

    And everybody is too scared to pick up a rifle and start shooting politicians because they know what will happen after that. --All semblance of order instantly lost, and what remains of society catching fire. Nobody wants that. Anything but that. And so we keep hoping that somebody will do something. --And look! We have a promising election coming up! We can focus on that, and ignore the FACT that we KNOW the electoral process is corrupt. We KNOW that the military industrial complex still holds power over everything, and we KNOW that the same people and agencies who killed Kennedy are moving in the bushes. But we'll put up with that false hope because anything is better than the alternative.

    Maybe this time. Maybe!


    -FL

  • Where I work.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @07:42PM (#22840056)
    The IT director says we're going to be rolling out a deletion policy for files. I don't think there's anything inherently evil about it, the rationale is more ass-covering. The logic goes like this:

    1. If you have no data retention/deletion policy, opposing council in a lawsuit has a reasonable expectation that you will be able to produce documents requested. They could ask for something from ten years ago and demand you produce said evidence.
    2. If you have a deletion policy in place, say everything after 18 months, you only have to provide documents up to that point. Not being able to produce something from two years ago does not mean you are playing coy.
    3. Without a deletion policy in place and properly enforced, opposing council could argue that you are withholding evidence.

    It seems like a reasonable bit of ass-covering, just like making sure our licensing documentation is up to date if the BSA comes calling.

    Since the lawyer wasn't around, I couldn't ask all the questions I had. The one that immediately comes to mind, if I were hit by the RIAA saying I was file-sharing and they demanded I turned over my hard drive, if I smashed it and smiled at them pretty-like they would slap my ass with obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence. So if I said I had a personal policy of reformatting my hard drive every week and could produce documentation to prove it, would I be able to get away with it? I don't think so.

    I think if it were any small company facing this same line of questioning, lady justice would be strapping on the assault-dildo and sharpening the spikes. If this were a major multi-billion dollar business, they would just brazen it out and probably get a fine that is small compared to the size of the crime committed. And since this is the White House, they'll be able to tell the law to fuck off and get away with it. I don't see anything to convince me otherwise.

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