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White House Says Hard Drives Were Destroyed

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the just-in-case dept.

Republicans 411

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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A way to check... (4, Insightful)

Daimanta (1140543) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835510)

What did they do with the harddrives? And why aren't there any backups? The IT staff either is malicious or highly incompetent.

Re:A way to check... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835542)

The IT staff either is malicious or highly incompetent.

Or following orders.

Not really the point (5, Interesting)

Gription (1006467) | more than 6 years ago | (#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...)

Re:A way to check... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835944)

The same sort of "missing email" issue happened with the Clinton White House. This is par for the course in any administration.

Re:A way to check... (1)

eldepeche (854916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836036)


Re:A way to check... (2, Insightful)

houghi (78078) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836020)

Nuremberg Defense [] . Unfortunatly only for the military.

And ALL deserve prison (1, Flamebait)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836112)

These ppl KNEW that it was illegal, even back then. And yet they did it. Every IT person in the white house should have prison time along with the WH admin.

FTFA (4, Informative)

The Mighty Buzzard (878441) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Don't be stupid, it's a lie. (1, Troll)

twitter (104583) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835860)

Government emails are public records and it's against the law to destroy them the same way it's against the law to destroy any other public record. It is NOT standard practice to destroy email at the state, local and federal level. There's also evidence Bush and friends used a separate, private email system at commercial ISP to avoid being snooped on the way he is snooping on everyone else [] . The only thing that's consistent here is Bush telling a lie.

Next thing he'll tell you is that Sadam hid his email with WMD.

Re:FTFA (4, Insightful)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835912)

Except when there is explicit law to the contrary.

Re:FTFA (2, Insightful)

The Mighty Buzzard (878441) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836062)

There isn't a law to the contrary. The law you're speaking of requires data be saved. If they didn't save it before the drives were sent off for destruction, shame on them, but they still had to be destroyed.

Re:A way to check... (4, Insightful)

innerweb (721995) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.


Re:A way to check... (2, Insightful)

owlnation (858981) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835712)

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.

Privacy? On Government networks? (1)

Lorien_the_first_one (1178397) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835878)

Okay, so maybe they communicated information and ideas that would compromise careers or hidden agendas on a government network. What blows my mind is why anyone on a government network would have any expectation of privacy. I've worked on a government project. Everything is tracked and no software could be installed.

Why wouldn't these people do their planning outside of the government network, using email with encryption (PGP)? All of them could easily create Yahoo or Google accounts, or they could even create their own little domain name with their own server and run it all with encryption. Then we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

The point is this: religious zealots believe that anything is right when *god* is on their side. Studies have shown that religious wars tend to be more inhumane to the victims of wars that just economic wars just because it's in the name of god. These people act like zealots.

The other point is that we're dealing with an administration bent on religious action. They sincerely believe that they must secure the right outcome according to their notion of prophecy. Being so righteous, they wouldn't be interested in science, and thus have little awareness of how computers actually work.

Of course, if they're so sure of their prophecy, they might consider an alternative course of action. Instead of jumping into the gulf and inflicting war, they could just sit back, have some popcorn and see if the prophecy will really happen. If it's prophecy, no further action is required. All that is needed is a Saint's Patience.

Granted, this is a rather crude stereotype. And I've known some rather clever religious people who *did* understand computers well. And they were very nice people, so don't get me wrong about any prejudices here. I'm just saying that if you look at the group of the Bush Administration as a whole, you're going to see a lot more people ignorant of technical processes inside computers and servers than otherwise.

There is one other thing I thought I should mention. I don't know where I heard it, but someone said, "Never assume malice before stupidity." We might have a case of stupidity here. A rather large example, at that.

With any luck, we might get new legislation and oversight that helps prevent things like this from happening.

Re:A way to check... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835958)

What did they do with the harddrives?

Destroyed them when fazing out old machines and trading up to the new hotness? This is hardly rare, even in the private sector - Your company doesn't have a drive-destruction policy? We've all read dozens of articles here about the ease with which data can be recovered from magnetic media if inadequately dealt with. I can't even begin to grok what the big deal is here. That said, their email traffic should have been limited to official channels when discussing official business and backed up to the national archives, IMHO. Has nothing to do with destroyed media.

Re:A way to check... (1)

VennData (1217856) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836046)

Just the hard drives? You guys should be lucky they didn't destroy the IT staff.

Re:A way to check... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22836052)

They probably have them shredded or melted down. That's what we do. Try recovering data from a pile of dust or a slag of previously molten metal.

No it is not usual (5, Informative)

Spiked_Three (626260) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:No it is not usual (5, Interesting)

samurphy21 (193736) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835568)

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:No it is not usual (1, Insightful)

srussell2 (914053) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835592)

For many governmental entities destroying of an old hard drive when upgrading a system/replacing a computer/etc.. is not only common it is mandated. While you and I might think that there is ill intent involved, this is clearly not the case. The place I used to work with would make several holes through the drive with a hammer and screw driver after the drive was wiped clean. The intent was to make sure that no one was able to recover sensitive information from the dive. And just in case you are wondering, these rules/laws were enacted by DEMOCRATS.

Re:No it is not usual (5, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835714)

There is a law related to the preservation of all presidential records, however, that should supercede any 'standard' policy. For more information, search for "Presidential Records Act."

This offered excuse does not hold water and should finally put an end to the question about whether or not to prosecute the executive. This is no simple 'mistake.' It was willful and intentional destruction of evidence. And let us not lose sight over what this ultimately comes down to. If you consider yourself to be a patriotic citizen of the U.S., you should be outraged and infuriated at the thousands of U.S. lives wasted at the hands on this administration brought on by an illegal and deceitfully based war. It is no trivial matter to send even a single soldier to face his or her death. And it is certainly no trivial matter when even a single person dies because this president has lied to congress and entered us into a war. Forget that this war has harmed the global economy and the U.S.'s standing in the world and all other fall-out.

If there were justice to be had, it would be in the form of "demoting" our commander-in-chief down to a foot-soldier, put a rifle in his hand and let HIM fight his damned war in person.

Re:No it is not usual (5, Insightful)

Professor_UNIX (867045) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836088)

National Security supersedes the Presidential Records Act. There was likely e-mail on those drives that could've had a massive negative effect on the President and his administration, thus it is in our national security interests to see that those records were destroyed.

Re:No it is not usual (2, Insightful)

schwit1 (797399) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835594)

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.

Re:No it is not usual (4, Insightful)

hachete (473378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835678)

"millions of missing emails"

My believability barrier just snapped.

I believe the word "criminal" is all to apt for this administration.

Re:No it is not usual (1)

KyleTheDarkOne (1034046) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835782)

The word "criminal" can be applied to most administrations...

Re:No it is not usual (3, Interesting)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835934)

After the president admitting to a felony against the FISA? After the administration ordering evidence to be falsified to have a casus belli against enemies of their Saudi friends?

The last few US administrations, both Democleptopopulist and Repunepotiauthoritarian, criminal? Who wuda thunk it?

No it is not usual-Drives dying. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835954)

"My believability barrier just snapped."

Why? Many people lost that much and more when their IBM Deskstars went south.

Re:No it is not usual (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835706)

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 [] and physical HDD shredders [] 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.

Re:No it is not usual (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835716)

So at what point does the silliness of excuses stop and we start calling "destruction of evidence"?

Re:No it is not usual (5, Insightful)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835948)

So at what point does the silliness of excuses stop and we start calling "destruction of evidence"?

When the next administration need something to distract the public from their own nefarious deeds.

Wrong question (4, Informative)

DutchSter (150891) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:No it is not usual (2, Insightful)

Bovarchist (782773) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835962)

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 data wiped out. And TFA mentioned that the White House email system was archaic, so it seems that no one thought getting the system working right was a priority until now. Again, I'm not saying there was definitely no malicious intent, I'm just saying we shouldn't underestimate human stupidity.

Re:No it is not usual (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22836138)

Hard drive destruction is perfectly normal for my company and among our clients. In fact, the destruction of hard drives is mandatory for all retired machines. For some projects, hard drives and backup tapes are destroyed immediately upon project completion. This is after product has been delivered, of course. As for backups, our retention period is less than a year. Archived data is retained for a decade, but that only includes final deliverable data. We're a privately held company, so SOX doesn't apply for email storage. Heck, we even destroy the drums from laser printers.

A while back I worked for a company that went so far as to destroy CRT monitors upon their retirement. They'd take them out to the company's weapons range and shoot them... repeatedly. This method wasn't particularly friendly to the environment, but it was thorough.

I guess my point is that in certain secure environments, such policies aren't all that uncommon. I'm not saying that it's right or wrong in the case of the White House, but such practices are not unheard of.

Shocking! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835516)

This is all I ask: that Bush doesn't serve a third term.

Bonus: the challenge word is "attacker".

(Lrf, V xabj nobhg gur 22aq Nzraqzrag ohg jvyy Ohfu sbyybj vg.)

Re:Shocking! (2, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835892)

This is all I ask: that Bush doesn't serve a third term.

He can't anyways. This is his second term, and that's all the President of the United States gets. Congress saw to that a long time ago. Now if they would just apply term limits to themselves, this country would be a much happier place.

Awesome! (4, Interesting)

WilyCoder (736280) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835522)

Awesome! Now arrest them for obstruction of Justice.

Not so fast... (5, Insightful)

msauve (701917) | more than 6 years ago | (#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... (4, Insightful)

untaken_name (660789) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835606)

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... (1)

cobaltnova (1188515) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835886)

Honest question (I am just curious):

Why exactly are you convinced that Hilary would be lenient with the present administration? out of diplomacy with a possibly republican congress? should I be wearing my tin-foil hat?

Also, for that matter, there is no clear Democratic candidate yet (Obama is definitetly not dead in the water)... why so convinced Obama would not be elected?

Re:Not so fast... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835766)

So we should get rid of this pardon thing. It sounds like an abuse.

Re:Not so fast... (4, Insightful)

houghi (78078) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

what a bloody coincidence !!! (4, Funny)

unity100 (970058) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835524)

this administration will go down in history as "administration of coincidences". coincidences they need happening at the exact nick of time.

Re:what a bloody coincidence !!! (1)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835576)

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.

Napoleon would've been proud (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836018)

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! (1, Interesting)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835560)

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 missing CDROMs, with an else for prosecution for professional neglect.

Re:Heads MUST roll! (4, Insightful)

Wm_K (761378) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Heads MUST roll! (4, Insightful)

ATMAvatar (648864) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835642)

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.

Re:Heads MUST roll! (4, Insightful)

jo42 (227475) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836076)

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.

This is not a normal IT shop. (4, Insightful)

MMC Monster (602931) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:This is not a normal IT shop. (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835874)

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.

Re:This is not a normal IT shop. (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836034)

Um, that would be covered by his last sentence.

We don't destroy hard drives... (2, Interesting)

Stormin (86907) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835598)

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 to do so. But if they were really archiving emails on the individual desktops, that's a huge problem in and of itself.

Loosing your email every three years? (2, Insightful)

ecotax (303198) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835600)

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 (2, Insightful)

renelicious (450403) | more than 6 years ago | (#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 (5, Informative)

malkavian (9512) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835652)

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.

Re: Back in the BBS days. (2, Interesting)

myspace-cn (1094627) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835806)

I don't know about Banking, but just plain old back from the bbs days, back in the DOS days, I have every single piece of mail still to this very day.

That goes way past anything this treasonous administration apparently has. We used to talk about things like grinding harddrives down into sand and storing the sand for 50 years in a vault. I never lost data once over all these years. Not once. Accidentally pop a partition, start recovering. Boom everything back. The only thing that ever got lost was the CURRENT document that was running before the power was shut off. Backup supply's wasn't as common as you can get them now.

The problem with saying the IT staff at the whitehouse was either a, or b, is the same problem we have in wondering if states that buy electronic voting machines were either a.) incompetent or b.) Corrupt. It way past time to be wondering.

In the case of electronic voting machines is is CORRUPTION. we don't even say a or b anymore. They have long since had a chance to wise up. If they still are purchasing these rigged boxes, then we know they are corrupt. It's that simple.

With all the crimes and lies coming out of this administration, it's corruption. That's what it is. They can say it's incompetence all day until the cows come home, then have their fascist media air it as truth on the fascist news, until the American people believe the lie. But it's just another lie, and some poor fuckin IT guy will loose his job, and get blamed, instead of some high level corrupt piece of shit official being stripped of his security clearance, and being tossed in Levenworth.

The other thing is usually when the Whitehouse says something the opposite is true. We need to physically look at those machines, they're probably bluffing, and the more they use those machines, the less chance (if they were formatted) that we get information back.


Re:Banking (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836058)

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.

We do it. This is not uncommon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835626)

I work for a large insurance company. When a hard drive is replaced it is destroyed to protect the customers as well as the company from exposure. Accurate recording keeping is also kept to assure that the drive doesn't just disappear for someones personal usage.

Standard Procedure (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835634)

This is standard decommission policy. Nothing has changed since the Clinton and HW Bush eras either. You guys are just extra testy since you hate Bush and are looking for a smoking gun

And unlike the rest of you alarmist, tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorists, I will actually provide the documentation to support my claim:

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) document SP 800-14, "Generally Accepted Principles and Practices for Securing Information Technology Systems" (September 1996), section (3.4.6)

Privacy Act of 1974

Computer Security Act of 1987

Alternatives to the hard drives (4, Funny)

Average (648) | more than 6 years ago | (#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".

Re:Alternatives to the hard drives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835722)

I don't think you can pull data off a drive if its been ground into dust (or blended)

Re:Alternatives to the hard drives (1)

Lost Penguin (636359) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835762)

Waterboard Bush and Cheney.....

Re:Alternatives to the hard drives (1)

teabag_46 (1106783) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835838)

Seems to me, the US administration is deep in the brown stuff at the moment, and whatever they do won't get them out- BUT - sometime, they're going to be even deeper, and they'll realise that some of those missing e-mails will get them out of it, and they will magically be able to find them again! The US police/courts/FBI or whatever, should keep records of the dates that these 'missing' e-mails fall between, and then when one appears, chase them all... somebody, somewhere, WILL still have them all saved, even if it is on an unofficial googlemail account; somebody always does!

SNL Pathological Liar (3, Interesting)

bmo (77928) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835660)

Hey! where have we seen this excuse before?

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

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 IS WHITE HOUSE POLICY! (Jon Lovitz Voice) Yeah, That's the ticket!


Spiking? (2, Informative)

WPIDalamar (122110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835662)

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.

Re:Spiking? (1)

gimpeh (1209722) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835970)

Spiking is where a metal spike is driven in the touch hole of a cannon so that the cannon cannot be fire without drilling the spike out. Quick, dirty, easy method to disable artillary in the field.

of course they do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835684)

I support a lot of government hardware at a help desk level. Every time they need a drive replaced, they always destroy the original one. At the very least they don't return it for failure diagnosis. Medical institutions do the same thing due to HIPAA. Nothing unusual about the destruction of hard drives at all.

Not unusual at all (3, Insightful)

szquirrel (140575) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835692)

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.

Re:Not unusual at all (1)

memfrob (157990) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835858)

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

It's interesting, anyway []

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 survive it.

Even with all of this, we weren't allowed to keep souvenirs of the process. :(

Re:Not unusual at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835898)

there is nothing specific or onerous in that specification, other than stating that the media needs to be erased according to department guidelines (section 8-301).

In practice, when replacing hard drives the old ones are generally of such low capacity by modern standards that it is far more efficient to just destroy them.

Re:Not unusual at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22836070)

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


Something capable of shredding cars is impressive to watch.

Especially when the gas tank isn't quite empty... :D

Re:Not unusual at all (1)

Eudial (590661) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836090)

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 hard drive will not destroy the data. It is at least theoretically possible to restore the information therein. Extremely time consuming, and most likely doomed to fail? Yes. Impossible? No. The only viable way of completely and utterly wipe a hard drive is to heat it beyond it's Curie point. That is the only foolproof way.

Re:Not unusual at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22836134)

It is a silly question anyway. Even if it was a simple matter of policy, then it would be more important to find out how they arrived at that policy. For a farmaceutical company, with industry secrets to protect, it makes sense, but some information they would not be allowed to destroy, such as tax related documents and such. For the government, with a mandatory requirement to document everything it does because there are laws to hold the government accountable, even if those documents can be kept secret for years afterward, it is not allowed to have such a policy.

The real question is, of course, what on Earth do they have to hide? How many more things have been covered up, things that we don't know about? If we get a democratic president, will there be a huge search in archives and will there be a trial? If we get McCain, will there be an amnesty? Those are the relevant questions imho.

Hulk want to Crush (1)

burnclouds (1233058) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835696)

Comic reference aside, In ever business I have ever worked from hundreds of thousands of employees in several countries to a local church with five staff members, the practive was to crush or other wise physically destroy any hard drives that could possibly going outside their previous usage scope.

bush or chimp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835736)

aren't you glad you still pay taxes? look where it goes!

Wikileaks reward (2, Interesting)

mcelrath (8027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835746)

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. 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? (3, Insightful)

Firas Zirie (1179357) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:No backups? (1)

ciellarg (899150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836022)

There is a difference between a permanent archiving system and the standard 3 year tape rotation backups. Permanent archiving is extremely expensive; and is only recently being forced upon business/government agencies. A large part of the problem is that the systems have no way to separate "historically important" emails from Johnx sending messages with his vacation pictures to everyone in his department. In this case (admittedly facetious) even though the users might delete them from their hard drive; it becomes a matter of public record for all eternity, and so does the cost to store and maintain it!

It doesn't suprise me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835758)

that the destruction of hard drive is standard procedure as that was how it was at the bank I worked at. However, that really shouldn't even matter here with server stored emails and server backups. Where the hell are the backups? It's obvious that they were destoyed purposefully.

Maybe they got archived... (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835778)

on Kazaa?

Just imagine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835792)

Imagine the huffing and puffing from this group if someone's private data was left on one of these hard drives after it was put out of service. Then you would hear the same words: incompetent, stupid, criminals. Find another key to sing in.

This process is from a House Committee looking for RNC emails on government accounts or official emails on RNC email accounts. In the process, they hope to find other misdeeds. It is a fishing expedition waiting to evolve into a witch hunt. It is hardball politics.

The Nixon effect. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835800)

"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."

Much like the missing 15 minutes. History will record this as the Bush administrations "missing".

We destroy ours (1)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835828)

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.

Nothing to see here... (1)

Spaatz965 (239040) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835830)

FTFA, "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,"

So, this article is referencing an industry common practice - destroy the data. For the US Government, destroy the hard drive. For corporations who might resell the equipment, wipe the drive to DOD spec. Must not let data inadvertently leak because an intact hard drive made it through a GSA sale, eh? Or should the government put together a warehousing system to store and track hard drives from retired workstations?

It's not an IT issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835864)

This entire thing is not an IT issue.

The game should be more like: if you (the person with political power in charge of ensuring that the email does not get lost) can't produce the emails, we have to press charges against you and you will end up in jail for x years.

It's too convenient to "loose" inconvenient emails blaming IT.


It would be unusual NOT to destroy drives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835870)

Everyone who knows and cares about security physically destroys drives after removal from service. My last three employers certainly did ... old drives were wiped and warehoused until enough were gathered to make physical destruction cost effective. Destruction methods varied but the goal was physical destruction of the platters.

It ain't just for corporate IT though... all of the moderately savvy individuals I know physically destroy their old drives, especially drives that have failed and therefore contain valid info that can't be wiped but could be retrieved. I'm not talking IT workers at home either, just people who have a clue and their personal financial records on the line. Most disassemble the drives and pound or BBQ the platters... a few take their old drives on a last date to a shooting range... results are pretty similar in either case.

I know I've destroyed a few drives (and will destroy more... I have a failed 500G drive awaiting BBQ season now) over the years.

incompetent fools... (1)

blosphere (614452) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835888)

So, if I read the article correctly

1) They haven't heard about IMAP and storing messages in the server permanently

2) They're using their exchange mail server (not mentioned in the article but other sources tell they went from Notes to Exchange) via POP3.

Been there done that (3, Insightful)

DnemoniX (31461) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Unusual? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835916)

In a lot of places its standard practice.

Hard drives? Yes. Data? No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22836116)


Paranoia Strikes Deep! (1)

ciellarg (899150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835966)

I used to work for a Fortune 500 company which was in the nursing home business. Due to the potential release of sensitive information, which under patient confidentiality laws must be protected - even to the point of not disclosing that an individual was a resident, all workstation drives were routinely destroyed when the machines left the company. For those of you who are being so freaking paranoid, there is ONE difference between destroying a drive when sending a workstation for disposal and disposing of the entire workstation with the hard drive still in it. With either option, the data is lost to the entity which used to own the computer. The difference is that the company which releases the hard drive from service without destruction faces a very real risk that someone will be able to obtain sensitive data from it. The data cannot be retrieved by unauthorized third parties if you securely wipe/destroy a drive. From the tone of things, it sounds as if some of our readers envision a room in IT in which rack upon rack of hard drives should be stored! Can you imagine walking into a vault and seeing a room full of 1 GB hard drives which were not destroyed, just in case someone wants to spend 2 billion dollars to search them all for data? Recycling backup tapes used to be a common thing; they are expensive when you look at the number of tapes required for corporate level backups. The traditional method of 3 generations of backups was , for years, considered the standard. It is only in today's lawsuit happy environment that companies are being forced to retain backups for a longer period. was 18-and-a half minutes (0)

joedoc (441972) | more than 6 years ago | (#22835978) []

What's really interesting about this entire discussion is the assumption that some criminal act has been committed here. Whether or not you support this administration, this whole thing seems more like a fishing expedition by a bunch of people with some kind a agenda.

Trust me, having spent the last 18 years working in IT as a federal employee and a contractor, I don't find this whole "lost emails" and "destroyed hard disks" situation surprising, nor sinister. In spite of the superior levels of technology available, IT changes come to federal agencies (yes, even the White House) very, very slowly. The rules and regulations regarding security, certification of systems and classification of documents (both hard copy and electronic) are frequently a confusing mess of legal-speak and idiocy, where one instruction will occasionally contradict another.

I was the IT director for eight years in a small Navy command. I had the responsibility of overseeing things like file backup and recovery and hard disk destruction. These tasks were often time-consuming, confusing (to follow some instructions), and wrought with opportunities to wipe out the wrong disk. I was fortunate, because I was careful and anal about record-keeping. Once, I removed a Secret classified drive from a machine for use in a new box, because I needed to copy data from it. I stored it in a marked package in a three-drawer safe, with notes on it saying not to remove it from the safe. A week later, I found it in a stack of Secret drives being transported out for destruction, drives that were stored in a completely different cabinet. Luckily, I had to verify the inventory of what we were sending out and caught the "good" drive.

Turns out this was my fault...I didn't add the stored drive to the proper inventory document, and someone else assumed it was going out for destruction (we didn't have the tools or the authority to destroy classified disks, so they were sent to another military facility).

The data on that drive was pretty important -- not to the national security -- but vital for certain people's jobs.

So, if I can nearly screw up on making sure one lousy drive doesn't get blown up, in my little organization, on my little network, I can see how it might happen in someplace like the White House.

Plus, it's not like this is the first administration that lost something. Aren't they still looking for those FBI files that were left laying about when Clinton was living there? And, has Mrs. Clinton found her tax returns yet? was 18-and-a half minutes (1)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836108)

Uh they were destroying drives with e-mail from 2005. No way was this an accident.

My take.... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22835990)

1. Yes it is our policy to destroy hard drives before disposal. 2. Why is it possible, in the white house of all places, for emails to only be present on client computers, be it laptops or desktop? Ridiculous

Hard drives destroyed? Good (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836008)

The White House, and for that matter, every government agency, should have a data-retention and data-destruction policy and follow it.

For things at the White House level, I would expect all media, even those thought to contain only routine information, to be destroyed when they are no longer in use and all data on them has been copied off or has met the criteria for destruction.

Now, as for emails being destroyed:
If they were destroyed in accordance with policy, should the policy be changed?
If they were destroyed against policy, by whom, when, and why? The American people need to know.
If the policy didn't provide for the retention or destruction of the emails, the policy is flawed and must be revised.

There are fun methods. (1)

J. T. MacLeod (111094) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836016)

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.

Just like Camembert (1)

Jafar00 (673457) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836026)

Court: HardDrives, perhaps? White House: Ah! We have HardDrives, yes sir. Court: You do! Excellent. White House: Yes, sir. It's, ah ..... it's a bit old. Court: Oh, I like it old. White House: Well, it's very old, actually, sir. Court: No matter. Fetch hither those HardDrives full of Emails! M-mmm! White House: I think it's a bit older than you'll like it, sir. Court: I don't care how fucking old it is. Hand it over with all speed. White House: Oh ..... Court: What now? White House: The Condi's eaten it. Court: Has he? White House: She, sir.

Data not lost (3, Funny)

boombasticman (1232962) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836040)

Ask the chinese crackers! They would probably have a backup of the lost whitehouse mails.

I blame the Democrats (1)

TheMiddleRoad (1153113) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836066)

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.

Actually, it *isn't* unusual (1)

crmartin (98227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22836098)

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 increasingly an issue for corporate IT departments too. Lots of people working on that. See, eg, Radia Perlman's "ephemerizer."

I'd add an insulting coda here, but if you're dumb enough to think the White House is running a "corporate" IT department, you're too dumb to get anything subtle.
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