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After Non-Profit Application Furor, IRS Says It's Lost 2 Years Of Lerner's Email 372

Posted by timothy
from the computer-crashed-whaddya-do dept.
As reported by the Associated Press, via US News & World Report, the IRS says that it cannot locate much of the email sent by a former IRS official over a two-year period. "The IRS told Congress Friday it cannot locate many of Lois Lerner's emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed during the summer of that year. Lerner headed the IRS division that processed applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS acknowledged last year that agents had improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups." Three congressional committees are investigating the agency because of the allegations of politically motivated mishandling of those applications, as is the Justice Department and the IRS's own inspector general. As the story says, "Congressional investigators have shown that IRS officials in Washington were closely involved in the handling of tea party applications, many of which languished for more than a year without action. But so far, they have not publicly produced evidence that anyone outside the agency directed the targeting or even knew about it." CBS News has a slightly different version, also based on the AP's reporting.
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After Non-Profit Application Furor, IRS Says It's Lost 2 Years Of Lerner's Email

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  • Very fishy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrLogic17 (233498) on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:24PM (#47233741) Journal

    I'd love to see what she would say to a taxpayer "losing" 2 years of receipts during an audit.

    I think that "my bad" wouldn't be enough.

    • Re:Very fishy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:37PM (#47233819)

      I'd love to see what she would say to a taxpayer "losing" 2 years of receipts during an audit.

      I think that "my bad" wouldn't be enough.

      Welcome to the realities of asymmetric power.

    • by perpenso (1613749) on Saturday June 14, 2014 @12:29AM (#47234891)

      I'd love to see what she would say to a taxpayer "losing" 2 years of receipts during an audit.

      Its better than that. Imagine if you only lost the receipts that were of interest to the IRS, that you still have many receipts that they are not interested in.

      From the article:
      "Camp's office said the missing emails are mainly ones to and from people outside the IRS, "such as the White House, Treasury, Department of Justice, FEC, or Democrat offices.""

      Can we just have a flat tax (that phases in at the poverty line, not literally flat) and no deductions? Then the IRS can be scaled down to a small fraction of its current size and have very little power, no deduction no power to interpret things. As an added bonus it removes a major source of political corruption, the creating of those deductions for influential constituents.

      • From the article: "Camp's office said the missing emails are mainly ones to and from people outside the IRS, "such as the White House, Treasury, Department of Justice, FEC, or Democrat offices.""

        Oh, so that shouldn't be a problem, then. Just request the emails from the White House, etc. I'm sure they won't have any problems digging up their copies. They couldn't also have lost those particular emails, now, could they?

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:26PM (#47233757) Homepage Journal
    Oh her computer crashed did it? Did you try looking on the server where you keep the mail, and not on her computer?
    • by DigiShaman (671371) on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:29PM (#47233779) Homepage

      I think it's POP3 for a very convenient reason.

      "Oops, lost my shit...oh well" Yeah, real fucking convenient.

      • by JonathanR (852748) on Friday June 13, 2014 @09:03PM (#47234205)

        Amazing how ineffective these intelligence agencies are when the issue in question goes against the absolute power agenda...

      • Its not that hard to recover data from a crashed drive most of the time.
        • by perpenso (1613749) on Saturday June 14, 2014 @12:47AM (#47234929)

          Its not that hard to recover data from a crashed drive most of the time.

          Assuming you actually want to recover it. The crash seem to occur about the same time the controversial policy was coming to light and the emails might be considered incriminating. Just a coincidence I'm sure.

        • by donaldm (919619)

          Its not that hard to recover data from a crashed drive most of the time.

          It is when that hard drive has been hit with a sledge hammer a few times or put through a shredder, which is precisely what some organisations require when a drive is faulty. Of course the data on the faulty disk can't be copied over to the new drive because "the old drive was faulty" so data is effectively lost. Backups? what are they :)

    • by Copid (137416) on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:54PM (#47233913)
      Last time I worked for a big corporation with a large IT department, we had a ridiculously small total space limit for emails stored on our server. It always seemd ridiculous to me until a senior IT guy said that it's basically for legal discovery reasons. As long as you have a policy of purging everything from your servers on a certain schedule (or based on size limits or some other reasonable variable that's not explicilty "purge the email because we're about to be sued"), you can minimize your what's available for discovery when somebody takes you to court and demands "all emails pertaining to X." You give them what you have on the server and odds are good that the employee hasn't kept copies of anything too old on thier PC, so if the opposition tries to drag out stuff from more than a year or so back, they're usually out of luck.
      • by ganjadude (952775) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:14PM (#47234007) Homepage
        The government has days retention laws though, this should not be an issue, it should be on a server or on backups, also they have the resources to recover from a bad hdd
        • by ganjadude (952775)
          Strong, not days...damn phone
        • by Copid (137416)
          Good point. Either they're in compliance or somebody should be accountable for it. It's pretty clear to me that this whole thing is another one of Issa's witch hunts, but that doesn't excuse violating data retention laws. We have them for very good reasons. "My dog ate my homework" doesn't cut it.
    • by amiga3D (567632) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:25PM (#47234069)

      I'd bet the NSA has all of them. They collect everyone's.

    • I suppose you could ask the NSA to provide a copy of it, I'm fairly sure they keep every email from everyone, forever. Of course the NSA only replies to info requests from government organizations.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      The US gov has learned from a lot its past court cases and legal issues around having real data backups.
      Never again will data be kept as it was in the past: backup and for a court to find: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/... [gwu.edu]
      "Career staff at the White House Communications Agency order the November backup tapes of the e-mail system to be saved instead of recycled as usual. Subsequently, investigators from the FBI and the Tower Commission use the backup takes to reconstruct the Iran-contra scandal."
      Iran
    • by guruevi (827432)

      You assume actual computer experts are investigating this matter? These are the same people that when presented with non-Windows OS or any type of encryption will be expert witnesses that testify in court that you're a hacker/terrorist and obstructed the investigation.

      And if they'll look on the server, they'll find a bunch of binary blobs. This is going to be Exchange after all and probably migrated to Cloud-Exchange so they have no access to the data on the servers.

  • by reynols (82982) * on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:30PM (#47233785)

    The IRS told Congress Friday it cannot locate many of Lois Lerner's emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed during the summer of that year.

    Wow! I didn't know the IRS had personal email servers on every individuals personal computer, where all copies of a persons email sent and retrieved is kept and deleted from everywhere else.

    The rest of us just use shared central email servers where multiple copies of everyone's email is kept, backed up daily. Boy, are we out of touch with reality!

    • I have no idea what their e-mail server is. If it's MS Exchange, I believe the default retention period for deleted items is 14 days. Though in reality, the local OST file may keep that longer (un-indexed and hidden) depending on how much activity there is. But that would require some 3rd party utility to dig for it. Also, the mailbox size could be restricted to force clients to rely on local Archive.PST files. That's one way of keeping it from being stored centrally for too long. Whack the PST and deny the

      • by Tailhook (98486) on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:52PM (#47233901)

        The Federal Records Act requires retention of records. That email is a "record" for statutory purposes is a long settled matter. Conducting government business on a system with a retention period of 14 days and no archive is a crime.

        It's your banana republic government either deliberately neglecting their obligation to preserve or destroying evidence or both. There aren't any plausible alternatives.

        Enjoy.

        • It's your banana republic government

          I never voted for this current administration. But what the fuck do I know, I'm only in the minority here. But to answer your question: yeah, we're pretty much fucked. But thank you for being honest anyways.

          BTW, I don't care anymore. Let it all burn down!!! Fuck it.

          • It's your banana republic government

            I never voted for this current administration.

            Funny, I never voted for the previous one, but I had to put up with it; in fact I was in the MAJORITY who voted against it and I still had to put up with it. I'm a bit disappointed with this one, but at least it shouldn't be court-martialed for sending troops into danger on false pretenses with insufficient equipment.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by superwiz (655733)
        It's the IIII RRRRR SSSSS. You know.... the people who get electronic records of all executed buy/sell orders of all the public exchanges... among other electronic documents that they manage of infinitely higher complexity than an email server. Yeah, crashing computers is NOT the reason they don't have those emails. This isn't kindergarten. IRS losing a Summer's worth of emails of a supervisor-level employee doesn't even work as a science fiction scenario.
    • by Ksevio (865461)
      Probably had a crappy old computer with 100 MB of storage space so everyone needed to use POP3 and store it locally on their computer.
    • You knowq most of us which DO have real work, get a lot of email circulating. On our account we may have maybe 128 Mb maybe 256 Mb of place available. EVen if it was 1 Gb. Well whoopy duh. After a year or two you usually have to move email ina rchival because no matter what you will reach your server max capacity. And guess where those archive are ? Archival are a local file, not a server file. You can set it up to have backup but so far I have known of no normal department which does that.

      And by t

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        You knowq most of us which DO have real work, get a lot of email circulating. On our account we may have maybe 128 Mb maybe 256 Mb of place available.

        What are you storing your email on, Genesis carts?

  • Don't worry. The NSA has it all filed away.
  • by SocietyoftheFist (316444) on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:35PM (#47233809)

    Everybody should be depressed and angry but they are complacent. New chief executive, same ole shit. Corruption and lies.

    • It's time to learn that the President does not matter to the direction of policy. The President is informed by long time position holders that certain things are of paramount importance to national security, or some such story.

      You cannot expect a new President to keep his campaign promises. It will never happen, because of what he learns as part of the n00b initiation process. Either he is brainwashed, or genuinely believes, or considers it an obligation to acquiesce.

      In no circumstance will a new Preside

  • Actually, even knowing what little I do of federal IT infrastructure, this doesn't surprise me. I'm actually surprised they HAVE email :P

    Seriously, I have a feeling they set up local email accounts, thought archiving was too difficult or expensive to implement, and called it a day - 20 years ago.

    And for the record, targeting political organizations wasn't isolated to conservative groups, and the only application rejected was for a progressive organization.

    • Yes,
      Just like you can say that there has never been a oil pipeline that has been rejected either. By not quickly approving simple applications and letting them linger for years - you effectively reject the application, without the political backlash of having to actually do it. I would assume it was a simple progressive organization that didn't qualify for the tax break - it was quickly rejected so they can fix their problem, or get back to doing what they should be doing.
  • The classic "My dog ate my homework" defense! Nicely played!

  • Not on my servers (Score:4, Informative)

    by BobandMax (95054) on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:54PM (#47233911)
    I spec'ed, installed and managed mail servers for several organizations and this never happened on my watch. We had this magical power called "backups" that insulated us from user ineptitude and malfeasance. Another item is the "ten million dollars" to retrieve emails and documents. I was asked to provide several years of emails and documents involving eleven employees and specific criteria for a lawsuit. Legal had it in their hands within two days and that involved pulling and selectively restoring the identified tapes and burning to DVD. I call bullshit.
    • by s.petry (762400) on Friday June 13, 2014 @09:06PM (#47234225)

      If you think that the Government does not have backups, you are sorely mistaken. Federal regulation requires backups and maintenance of backups of all mail data. Durations may vary slightly between certain divisions, but in almost all cases this is required and not optional.

      That said, the issue is what regulations have they broken if in fact they are claiming correctly that a persons computer was configured and managed illegally? Followed immediately by "Who is going to lose their job in addition to Lois Lerner?" I have a feeling that if jail time is threatened for management and employees responsible for mismanagement, backups may magically appear.

      Then again, they could be telling the truth which should not prevent the termination of employees failing to follow regulation and law. Simple solutions to these types of problems have huge impact on future cases.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      re "Legal had it in their hands within two days and that involved pulling and selectively restoring the identified tapes and burning to DVD. I call bullshit." After the Iran Contra emails where found on US gov systems a lot of work has gone into making sure nothing can be search in any easy way.
  • umm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by superwiz (655733) on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:55PM (#47233919) Journal
    Were those her emails to herself? Otherwise, they went through servers. This isn't a school board email server.... it's the IRS. Does anyone seriously think they don't have copious records of all the documents? My dog ate my homework? If you are gonna post any kind of credible reply to this, don't be an AC. Any AC reply to this will be assume to be coming from the legal staff of the Criminal Democratic Party.
    • I think it's quite possible if she was using something stupid like Outlook on Windows XP, and had a limited quota on an Exchange server.

      Those monstrosities were horrific in terms of reliability and local mail stores based on .PST formats are notorious for being fragile, easy to corrupt and difficult to backup.

      This is corporate / government IT from hell.

      • by dissy (172727)

        and had a limited quota on an Exchange server.

        In reality there are two sides to their exchange configuration: how it technically works, and how it legally works.
        Being the US government however that means there is only "How it works" which is an alias for how it legally works (How it technically works might as well be magic)

        http://www.archives.gov/record... [archives.gov]

        Installing exchange server and not raising the default retention period is a criminal act.
        Actually, I'm pretty sure not installing a backup package to work around exchange store limitations would als

        • Re:umm (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Cytotoxic (245301) on Saturday June 14, 2014 @01:05AM (#47234985)

          We are not talking about email in 1998. By the early 2000's even small to midsized businesses were having to face document retention policies and discovery requests. Whether by implementing in-house solutions like Vault or using outside services to implement email retention and discovery most companies had to have this in place for more than a decade. The IRS has nearly 90,000 employees. Their IT shop is no mom-and-pop operation.

          So to claim that all outside email was lost from 2010 is pretty shocking. The client computer mention might be an error, or it might be that an outside email service was being used. If the latter is the case, this should be a huge red flag.

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:07PM (#47233967)
    Snowden said he sent emails to the appropriate internal authorities before he went rogue, and the NSA said they couldn't find them. Everyone in the political establishment believed the NSA version. Now the IRS says that they can't find emails because of a technical problem, and no one believes them.

    The NSA are professional liars. They've been caught lying about a huge number of things: spying on friendly foreign leaders, mass phone surveillance on everyone in the USA, modifying routers before they are shipped overseas, etc.

    Double standard much? Who is more likely to be lying: the NSA or the IRS? Everyone in Washington are going after the IRS. Committees are meeting, IRA officials are testifying under oath, criminal investigations have been started. Higher ups at the IRA are going to be forced out, and there will be criminal charges. The same thing is also going to occur with the Veteran's Administration scandal.

    Meanwhile over at the NSA, the sound of crickets. They claim that their own secret investigations have found they did everything right. Somehow this seems good enough. No one has been called to task. Even the people responsible for letting Snowden get access to all that information seem to be off the hook.

    As bad as the IRS and VA situations are, they pale in comparison to the NSA situation and yet nothing has happened as a result. It's business as usual. The NSA is completely unaccountable to anybody for anything, and when they do screw up nothing happens to any insiders. This is guaranteed to result in a culture of incompetence. We are in big trouble.

    • by Krishnoid (984597) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:20PM (#47234041) Journal

      Everyone in the political establishment believed the NSA version. Now the IRS says that they can't find emails because of a technical problem, and no one believes them.

      Because the NSA watches over us to protect our freedoms, and they're the good guys. The IRS takes away our money, so they're the bad guys. See? Not that difficult to understand.

  • I find that with a rotation of admins, various screwups, machine upgrades, damaged media, etc. That legacy data tends to just lie around for decades. Generally most data security is during disposal with various mandates such as old hard drives being fed into atomic shredders. But if the server was pulled from the rack and put into a to-be-refurbished pile then it can easily exist in the back of the admin's closet. Or someone doing an inventory will say, "Hey, here is machine 53B, this machine doesn't exist
  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:26PM (#47234079)

    Two years of emails?!? Nixon only lost 18 1/2 minutes of the Watergate Tapes and he had to resign.

  • /church lady
  • Do you really mean to tell me that the IRS uses an email system that keeps the only copy of a user's email on the user's PC, and the user's PC isn't backed up? In the era of records laws, retention requirements, etc?

  • Each email system had a triplicate of backups done so they would not lose emails. They used Microsoft Exchange Server and digital tape backups. They used Outlook and backed up PST files to network drives.

    If they lost her emails with a system like that it was no accident.

  • Questions to ask (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RoccamOccam (953524) on Sunday June 15, 2014 @09:06AM (#47240023)
    Sharyl Attkisson (investigative reporter formerly with CBS) has posted some questions [sharylattkisson.com] that should be asked:
    • Please provide a timeline of the crash and documentation covering when it was first discovered and by whom; when, how and by whom it was learned that materials were lost; the official documentation reporting the crash and federal data loss; documentation reflecting all attempts to recover the materials; and the remediation records documenting the fix. This material should include the names of all officials and technicians involved, as well as all internal communications about the matter.
    • Please provide all documents and emails that refer to the crash from the time that it happened through the IRS’ disclosure to Congress Friday that it had occurred.
    • Please provide the documents that show the computer crash and lost data were appropriately reported to the required entities including any contractor servicing the IRS. If the incident was not reported, please explain why.
    • Please provide a list summarizing what other data was irretrievably lost in the computer crash. If the loss involved any personal data, was the loss disclosed to those impacted? If not, why?
    • Please provide documentation reflecting any security analyses done to assess the impact of the crash and lost materials. If such analyses were not performed, why not?
    • Please provide documentation showing the steps taken to recover the material, and the names of all technicians who attempted the recovery.
    • Please explain why redundancies required for federal systems were either not used or were not effective in restoring the lost materials, and provide documentation showing how this shortfall has been remediated.
    • Please provide any documents reflecting an investigation into how the crash resulted in the irretrievable loss of federal data and what factors were found to be responsible for the existence of this situation.
    • I would also ask for those who discovered and reported the crash to testify under oath, as well as any officials who reported the materials as having been irretrievably lost.

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