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CREW Posts Details and Copies of the Missing White House Emails Released by Administration
WASHINGTON - June 17 - Nearly two years after Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued the Bush White House for both its refusal to restore the millions of missing White House emails and its failure to put in place an effective electronic record keeping system, the White House has finally released documents that support CREW’s allegations. The documents, released after negotiations with the current administration, represent only a small percentage of the promised records, and appear to be part of a set of documents already provided to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2007 and 2008.
These documents confirm Bush White House officials knew they were failing to properly archive records and made several attempts to develop an email archiving system. Although some officials described the development of such a system as a “number 1 priority,” the efforts were either unsuccessful or abandoned for unexplained reasons. The documents make clear some administration officials were aware of the problem as early as February 2004, when the White House was attempting to respond to an unidentified grand jury subpoena from the Justice Department.
The documents confirm that in October 2005, the White House discovered millions of emails had disappeared. The documents also show that emails Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald had subpoenaed in connection with the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation were missing from Vice President Cheney’s office.
In providing these documents to CREW and the National Security Archive (which brought a separate lawsuit now consolidated with CREW’s), the Obama administration marked some of the documents “sensitive,” and therefore not subject to public disclosure, and redacted the identities and contact information of virtually all individuals named in the documents.
Many questions remain and the White House has promised to release more documents shortly. For example, there are approximately 38 boxes of documents the administration plans to review for disclosure. These boxes contain records related to the White House’s discovery of the missing email problem as well as proposals to address the issue and implement effective electronic recordkeeping. CREW is also awaiting documents regarding the limited effort to restore some of the missing emails that was begun by the Bush White House and is continuing. CREW anticipates these additional documents will fill in more of the blanks and will inform the public whether the White House is finally on the right track with its electronic record keeping practices.
The documents released so far address the following key subjects:
• The Bush Administration’s repeated attempts to develop a system to archive Microsoft Outlook emails. In 2002, the White House began converting from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook/Exchange for its email, and needed a system to preserve the Microsoft-based email. The documents include proposals and a “statement of work” for a pilot project to make the emails compatible with the Automatic Records Management System (ARMS), the system used since 1994 to preserve White House emails. OAP00000011, OAP00000025, OAP00000040, OAP00000056. But, as other records confirm, this system was never fully built. OAP00000083, OAP00000399.
• The Electronic Communication Records Management System (ECRMS), a plan to develop a longer-term solution for email. The contracts include one for Booz Allen Hamilton, which was selected to build the system. OAP00000386. For unexplained reasons, the Department of the Interior’s Mineral Management Service issued the contract documents and received all invoices, even though the system was to be delivered to the White House’s Office of Administration (OA). OAP00000386. One May 2006 email discusses plans to put ECRMS into production, stating ECRMS was OA’s “number 1 priority,” and “the most important system that we have implemented in a long time, we need to get it right.” OAP00000719. Yet the Bush White House never implemented this plan as well.
• The Bush Administration was aware of problems with email
preservation at least as early as February 2004. The documents include
a “post-mortem” analysis by Microsoft of problems with searching for
emails in response to a January 2004 grand jury subpoena that stated
“there is no current mechanism to transfer Exchange email into ARMS,”
and the plan for doing so “is not yet a stable and consistent solution”
that “fails to consistently” move data into ARMS. OAP00000083
• The White House’s discovery that millions of emails were missing from its electronic files, and its attempt to address the problem, comprise the bulk of the documents. They confirm the White House’s discovery of an investigation into the missing emails in October 2005. Several documents from that period reflect a tabulation of White House email files, called PST files. Those documents indicate there were a total of 5,397 PST files, but 20 files were “missing” and 19 more were “empty.” OAP00000500. The White House was unable to determine which White House component (i.e., the Office of the Vice President, the Office and Management and Budget, and the Council on Environmental Quality) was associated with more than 1,000 files. OAP00000486, OAP00000500. Others emails indicate PST files from August 10 through October 4, 2005 for separate White House components had been combined into a single file due to an “inadvertent” change. OAP00000167. Perhaps as a result of these problems White House appears to have temporarily stopped creating PST files for at least a week. OAP00000379.
• The Office of the Vice President (OVP) had particular problems with missing emails. Several of the documents discuss copying and conducting a manual review of more than 200 PST files from OVP. OAP00000377, OAP00000741, OAP00000790, OAP00001411, OAP00001415. This review may have led to the creation of a spreadsheet compiling information about the OVP PST files, which showed gaps in the dates of preserved messages preserved. OAP00000778. One of those gaps was from at least October 1-3, 2003, a period for which Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald sought email during his investigation of the leaks that led the disclosure of Valerie Plame’s identity. OAP00000377.
• The documents show that during this period, the White House initiated a “component by component analysis” to find the missing emails. OAP00001387. This apparently resulted in a series of scans that output the total number of messages in each PST file, and the number of emails from each date. OAP00000803, OAP00000842, OAP00001096, OAP00000903, OAP00000999, OAP00001158, OAP00001173, OAP00001176, OAP00001179, OAP00001182, OAP00001192, OAP00001229, OAP00001314, OAP00001350. One email states every source file was covered, except for 30 OVP files (it is not clear why), with 19 files that had no message count. OAP00001407. In February 2006, the White House completed an analysis of all the missing emails, and concluded there were 473 days on which there were no messages preserved, and 229 days on which the number preserved was suspiciously low. A chart of this analysis was released by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in February 2008. http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20080227155329.pdf. It is not clear if the documents provided by the White House to CREW and NSA were used in the creation of this chart.
• Some of the problems with the email preservation system were summarized in a November 14, 2005 memorandum from Steven McDevitt, Director of the Architecture and Engineering Directorate, to John Straub, Acting Chief Information Officer. OAP00000399. (An unredacted copy of this memo was published by the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, but the one provided by the White House blacks out the names of Mr. McDevitt and Mr. Straub in most places.) The memo states the “current email archive process depends on manual operations and monitoring, standard operating procedures do not exist, automated tools that support the email archive process are not robust, and there is no dedicated archive storage location. As a result the current process and lack of storage management limitations result in potential loss of emails. Lost or misplaced email archives in turn result in an inability to meet statutory requirements.”
• Mr. McDevitt was attempting to obtain approval for a new standard operating procedure for archiving Microsoft Outlook/Exchange email, and implementation of ECRMS as a long-term solution.
• The increased scrutiny may have led to the discovery of other problems. For instance, one email discusses “unauthorized actions” that were still taking place, OAP00000374, and another asks for an “emergency change” to allow a program to be run daily that collected attributes of files so that PSTs can be monitored and tracked better, OAP00001413.
• A few documents from January and February 2006 appear to relate to the recovery of some OVP PST files that needed to be searched. One email instructs the recipient to being the three phase project for restoring OVP email from 14 or 15 days in December 2003 and January-February 2004. OAP00001392.
• In June 2007, the White House issued a “Request for Quote” to install, configure, and test a new pilot electronic records management system using a product made by EMC. EOP0000127. The proposed contract calls for an “aggressive” six-week time frame for the project, which would not include rolling out the system for all 1,800 users. CREW understands this system was not implemented during the last administration. In addition, an undated “limited source justification” appears to contemplate awarding a sole source contract to EMC to acquire software and to configure, implement, and install an “enterprise wide Records Management (RM) system.” EOP0000156.
• Other documents provide a limited amount of information about the present system. One, titled “EMC Messaging – Messaging Current Product Compatibility Guide,” describes certain email preservation products and their compatibility with other software. EOP0000227. Another is a “Request for Information” to obtain information about the deployment of “an operational and improved electronic Records Management (eRM) for email-records program for The Executive Office of the President.” EOP0000285.