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The Bush White House "upgrades" the e-mail system.
April 30, 2008 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Ars Technica has a fascinating account of the IT "planning" which lead to the loss of 5 million+ emails. Via /.
posted by butterstick (45 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, I am sure that was it.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:38 AM on April 30, 2008


Christ, can we get Google to donate them a mini-Gmail system or something? (No, of course, because they like it this way.)
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:49 AM on April 30, 2008


Well, to be fair, it takes a lot of planning to make sure that nobody's keeping effective records of that many people's email. You have to make sure you have an inadequate system that has no good archiving facility, replacing the old working one if necessary, and then you have to come up with a scheme that's just halfassed enough to keep you under the radar until the deed is done. And all the while you need to foist off all those pesky people who want to actually make things work.

I could see how that might require a lot of planning, especially for a bunch of idiots.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:50 AM on April 30, 2008 [10 favorites]


I knew Microsoft just had to be involved.
posted by mek at 9:57 AM on April 30, 2008


Wasn't there a report (..in the last 7 years) of someone in the White House freaking out at a subordinate for sending something to his or her .gov address instead of the RNC account? Or am I thinking of an Abramoff thing?

So it sounds like they really have no retention policy. Is that correct? Is there a broader federal standard that should have been applied? It sucks that they can get away with this, but if there was no policy being violated, well, that's the real problem. Imagine if the feds had to comply with, gee, SOX or GLBA!

It really is a shame, but it's entirely possible it wasn't well-coordinated enough to be an effective information destruction effort. Users obviously had the power to make their own backups, and you can be sure that some folks had enough sense to burn everything to CD for CYA. No chain of custody, no forensic verifications, and probably not admissible, but still useful for archivists. At least, that's the impression I get of the 'free-wheeling' White House environment.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:03 AM on April 30, 2008


The transition broke compatibility with the old archiving system, and the White House IT shop did not immediately have a new one to put in its place.

So, they made changes to a working system without a clear vision of what needed to be done, a plan for how to actually implement their changes, or a working fall back in case things went wrong?

Wait, are we talking about Bush's IT department, or everything else this administration has touched?
posted by quin at 10:07 AM on April 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


The working system was Lotus Notes, so getting rid of it was not complete insanity.
posted by Artw at 10:08 AM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The broken replacement was Microsoft Exchange, so, ah, I'm going to stick with "complete insanity."
posted by enn at 10:12 AM on April 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wait, are we talking about Bush's IT department, or everything else this administration has touched??

Or every other IT department I've ever worked with.
posted by spicynuts at 10:13 AM on April 30, 2008


I could see how that might require a lot of planning, especially for a bunch of idiots.

Arse Technica.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:19 AM on April 30, 2008


So it sounds like they really have no retention policy. Is that correct?

They have a policy - the federal law (and case law) spells out what they need to do.

The policy, however, appears to be unimplemented.
posted by zippy at 10:20 AM on April 30, 2008


There are basically two options here:

Option 1) The CIO was incompetent, and approved a project that didn't even attempt to meet requirements.

Option 2) The CIO was competent, but approved a project that didn't even attempt to meet requirements.

As much as I mistrust the Bush administration, I'm trying to remember to never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
posted by Project F at 10:21 AM on April 30, 2008


But when both are clearly present it makes things so very confusing.
posted by Artw at 10:23 AM on April 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm trying to remember to never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Whoever came up that saying has probably done more good for malice than any actual evil ever could.
posted by srboisvert at 10:25 AM on April 30, 2008 [11 favorites]


Project F, I would suggest you would be better served by reversing that maxim. Especially when discussing the upper echelons of modern civilization. Say what you like about the Bush Administration, but that level of stupidity doesn't survive long even in the lower social strata.
posted by butterstick at 10:26 AM on April 30, 2008


They're not even bothering to pretend any more. It was working, they broke it, they knew it was broken, they knew it was illegal and they obstructed a fix to a huge extent (4 years to install an email system!), and they haven't even offered any reasons for why they did any of these things. Things like this are the reason why these guys have trampled all over the constitution. No-one's ever held them to account for anything, even stuff like this which is black and white. And, of course, the minute they're gone Fat Tony Scalia will say 'get over it' and they all walk away scot free. WAKE THE FUCK UP, YOU GUYS!
posted by Jakey at 10:29 AM on April 30, 2008 [7 favorites]


It’s hard to work when all the “W”s have been pried off the keyboards!

Oh wait, that never happened.
posted by Artw at 10:37 AM on April 30, 2008


WAKE THE FUCK UP, YOU GUYS!

Hi, welcome to the party. It was so nice of you to stop by. Can I take your coat?

As much as I mistrust the Bush administration, I'm trying to remember to never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

It's not malice. It's abuse of power and has been since he took office. Stupid? No, not by a long shot. You underestimate him at our peril. Please stop.
posted by Tehanu at 10:47 AM on April 30, 2008


Well, this will certainly affect the next election!
posted by blacklite at 10:48 AM on April 30, 2008


Empowered stupidity is equivalent to evil, especially at the highest levels of government.
posted by Freen at 10:50 AM on April 30, 2008


Whoever came up that saying

Well that was fascinating:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon's_razor
http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Robert_J._Hanlon
http://bilclarke.blogspot.com/2006/01/credit-where-its-due.html

Apparently "who came up with that saying" is "everyone", with at least four good claimants depending on how you want to decide each "Person A said it earlier, but Person B phrased it closer to the modern form" case.
posted by roystgnr at 10:53 AM on April 30, 2008


OMG SHEEPLES!
posted by Artw at 11:00 AM on April 30, 2008


White House IT staffer:

So as you see, Mr. Vice President, all internal electronic communications will be autmatically archived and tamper proof in full accordance with the FRA and PRA protocols. You don't even have to think about it, and no one can tamper with it maliciously.

Vice President Cheney:

*sniffs* Smells... liberal. *sniffs again* Where did this stuff come from?

White House IT staffer:

The IT staff under former President Clinton set it up, Mr. Vice President, sir.

VP Cheney:

*growling* THAT NAME! No, I do not think we'll have any of your liberal "oversight" in THIS administration!

White House IT staffer:

How did you speak with quotation marks like that?
posted by shmegegge at 11:14 AM on April 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


1. Engage in malicious activity.
2. Feign incompetence.
3. PROFIT!!!
posted by mek at 11:28 AM on April 30, 2008


As much as I mistrust the Bush administration, I'm trying to remember to never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

What they did was willfully stupid. They went from a system that complied with federal law automatically to one that required a staffer to explicitly make copies of all the emails. Why did they do this?

And while I'm far from an expert on email systems, I'm certain there was a way to they configure Exchange to automatically archive emails. Why didn't they do that? Don't they have IT guys at all?

In the hands of another other administration, other than perhaps Nixon's, such a casual approach to email archiving could be explained by mere bureaucratic and/or Luddite incompetence. But by now, with these guys, it's safer to assume malice.
posted by JHarris at 11:36 AM on April 30, 2008


never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.
posted by empath at 12:05 PM on April 30, 2008 [18 favorites]


Oh, yes, these guys were so "stupid" that they had an email "journaling" system that was neither "secure" nor "tamper-proof". I'm sure it was all just an oversight, because it wasn't like their IT guys were quitting in disgust over their recalcitrance. And the emails didn't disappear on cue or anything.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:05 PM on April 30, 2008


Dear Preident@WhiteHouse.Gov,

U Suk.

Kthxbye,

quonsar@gmail.com
posted by quonsar at 12:07 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


1. Engage in malicious activity.
2. Feign incompetence.
3. PROFIT!!!


Engage in malicious incompetance for profit.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:15 PM on April 30, 2008


Just wait till the pardons come down.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:19 PM on April 30, 2008


> they had an email "journaling" system that was neither "secure" nor "tamper-proof"

Better than that, they had a system that required a user to manually choose each message to be archived. So rather than archiving everything, or even archiving and then letting people tamper with the archive, the only stuff that ever goes in is what the users want the record to show.

It's really unfortunate because long after people have ceased to really get emotional one way or the other over the Bush administration's policies, it won't even be possible for scholars to study the era, because there won't be any records worth trusting.

What's unfortunate is that when it became clear that their email system was noncompliant with the FRA, they weren't simply barred from using email altogether until they fixed it. Maybe a few weeks of passing paper memos around or using nothing but voice mail would have encouraged them to either roll back to the old system, or call up Microsoft and find a solution for the new one.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:22 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


To: quonsar@gmail.com
Re: No response? Typical! I bet you lost my email, huh?

Dear Mr. Quonsar,

We have no record of the previous correspondence to which you made reference in your recent email. Our records of incoming messages are thorough, and a quick search indicates that we have not received any previous emails from you at this address. Are you sure you didn't email the RNC address instead? A lot of people get them confused.

Thanks and regards,
President@whitehouse.gov
McCain2008@RNC.org
posted by Tehanu at 12:31 PM on April 30, 2008


And while I'm far from an expert on email systems, I'm certain there was a way to they configure Exchange to automatically archive emails. Why didn't they do that? Don't they have IT guys at all?

Are you kidding? Right in the Exchange management interface there's this checkbox:

Archive all messages sent or received by mailboxes on this store

You check it. That's it. Done.

If you have some more specific needs, there is an abundance of software available for various prices that do all kinds of archiving and directly integrate with Exchange.
posted by odinsdream at 12:32 PM on April 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


odinsdream, that's my point. Archiving email is basic messaging software functionality. How could they have missed the fact that Exchange can do it automatically? The fact that they had someone do it manually all but proves they were hiding things. The opportunity to provide editorial control over the archives, it's the only good explanation for why they'd do it manually.

How about their attempts to go back to the old system to fix the problem? Why not just turn on archiving in Exchange? It's ridiculous. If the people looking into this matter can't see this, then they're ridiculous too.
posted by JHarris at 12:42 PM on April 30, 2008


JHarris, I just point that out to stress the fact that this wasn't a technical problem in any way, shape or form, for those who might otherwise not be aware that this capability is built into the software, and requires no additional technical or financial expenditures.
posted by odinsdream at 12:50 PM on April 30, 2008


This was willful - stop giving the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt. Is this an impeachable offense? Someone call Nancy. Pelosi, not Drew.
posted by valentinepig at 12:52 PM on April 30, 2008


This was willful - stop giving the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt. Is this an impeachable offense? Someone call Nancy. Pelosi, not Drew.

Calling upon a Democrat to do something is usually just as effective as calling on a fictional character to do something. Sorry :-(
posted by cmonkey at 1:03 PM on April 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.
posted by empath at 3:05 PM on April 30 [3 favorites +] [!]


Again, backwards. The whole point of this technique is that the malice is so well crafted, so well cloaked, so well engineered that it could plausibly be mistaken for incompetence or stupidity. The key difference is the lack of accountability. That should be the red flag that tips the scales towards malcompetance.

I don't think these are transitive properties. When was the last time you couldn't tell the difference between a really dumb person and someone cleverly playing the part? And no, watching The Usual Suspects doesn't count.
posted by butterstick at 1:14 PM on April 30, 2008


So if a Democratic administration had pulled this crap a Republican congress would just have attributed it to incompetence? Yeah. Right.
posted by notreally at 1:31 PM on April 30, 2008


So if a Democratic administration had pulled this crap a Republican congress would just have attributed it to incompetence? Yeah. Right.
posted by notreally

Er, eponybiguous?
posted by JHarris at 2:06 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


So if a Democratic administration had pulled this crap a Republican congress would just have attributed it to incompetence? Yeah. Right.
posted by notreally

Er, eponybiguous?
Posted by JHarris

My goal is to be as hard to pin down as John McCain.
posted by notreally at 2:14 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Since the tag is spelt wrong, this is prime malcompetence.
posted by dhartung at 5:13 PM on April 30, 2008


We put Jim Lovell in orbit around the moon in less time than it has taken the Bush whitehouse to figure out it's email backups.

From the day Kennedy challenged the nation at Rice University, to the December 1968 Apollo 8 Lunar orbit was approximately 7 years and 3 months. In that Time Bush hasn't accomplished a single God damned thing. Kennedy and LBJ and fought a bloody war, held off the Russians and still fucking got things done!!
posted by Megafly at 6:03 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


They're not even bothering to pretend any more. It was working, they broke it, they knew it was broken, they knew it was illegal and they obstructed a fix to a huge extent

It's very, very hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that they learned the lesson of the Nixon tapes---never, never, NEVER record any evidence that can be used against you.
posted by flug at 7:40 AM on May 1, 2008


The conservatives do not represent America. They serve the Multi-national Power Elite. Lost emails? Wake up. Just as their shredders goes day and night, the neocons have also taken great pains to eradicate all electronic evidence of their crimes. They are not stupid. We are for thinking they are.
posted by chance at 7:06 PM on May 1, 2008


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