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Behind The Missing White House E-Mail
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Trouble Ahead
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A Black Hole
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The problems with ARMS/Lotus Notes servers didn't come to light until 1998.


The glitch, according to the GAO report, was caused by human error in the capitalization of the letters in the name of the MAIL2 email server. The correct spelling was Mail2. The upshot? For the affected users outgoing emails were included in the ARMS record management database, but incredibly incoming messages were not as a result of this programming flaw. Some 256 users were affected.


Then, in its efforts to repair this problem, the letter D was somehow deleted from a key piece of software. As a result all users in the email system whose first names began with D were not subject to records management. Some 200 accounts were affected.


At the same time, many at the White House continued to use disparate e-mail systems despite the adaptation of Lotus Notes.


Anne Weismann, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), a non-profit activist group in Washington - and formerly a Department of Justice official who oversaw all government information litigation between 1995 until 2002 -- told CIOZone that the 10,000-Plus missing Clinton administration emails resulted from technical failures and were not deliberately destroyed.


Still, after the Mail2 server problem was discovered, Laura Crabtree Callahan and Mark Lindsay, director of White House management and administration, ordered Northrop Grumman staffers on the project to fix the archival system and maintain absolute silence regarding their efforts, according to testimony the Northrop staffers later gave a House Government Reform Committee investigating the missing emails. Some Grumman workers even claimed that Callahan threatened to have them jailed if they talked -- a charge that was never proven in court and Lindsay and Callahan denied. The clandestine project, according to CNN and other media sources, became known as "Project X." Participants, including the Northrop crew and a White House project manager, met at a nearby Starbucks or in Lafayette Park, keeping their work secret even from some IT staffers within the White House.


Particularly sensitive given the Lewinsky scandal was the discovery by several Northrop employees including systems administrator Robert Hass in June 1998 of a batch of emails to the former White House intern from friends of hers still employed by the Clinton administration. Yet no responses from Lewinsky were recorded. This was a by-product of the Mail2 server problem, according to The New York Times, but initially, at least, it looked like an attempt to deep-six incoming emails from Lewinsky.


Eventually, when the details behind the Mail2 failure became evident, House Government Reform Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said, "The big deal is not that a computer technician made a mistake. The big deal is how the White House reacted to it." He was referring the White House's attempts to conceal the mistake.








 
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