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Bush Iraq Emails Not Recoverable

Bush Iraq Emails Not Recoverable

By Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report

A late-night court filing by the White House on Monday revealed that official administration emails about the run up to the invasion of Iraq and the initial occupation may never be recovered.

Whistleblowers have accused the White House of destroying email records from their internal servers. The Bush administration disputes this accusation, claiming instead that many emails were stored incorrectly. The storage system came under harsh criticism from former employees who called it "primitive" and said it had deep security flaws that would inevitably lead to destruction of records. In September 2002, the Bush administration dismantled the Automatic Records Management System (ARMS) put in place by the Clinton administration and never replaced it.

Presidents are responsible for preserving all historical records during their time in office under the Presidential Records Act. Congress is conducting an investigation into possible violations of this act, including the destruction of at least ten million White House email records.

In response to a judge's orders, the White House Office of Administration (OA), which manages the networks and email systems in the White House, filed a statement (PDF Page 20), which revealed that no emails were saved between March 1 2003 and May 22, 2003. "Office of Administration is preserving 438 disaster recovery backup tapes that were written to between March 1, 2003 and September 30, 2003. Of those 438 tapes, the earliest date on which data was written ... is May 23, 2003," according to the Bush administration filing.

This time period is perhaps the most historically significant of the entire Bush administration. It includes the run up to the invasion of Iraq, diplomatic jockeying to try and rally United Nations support for war, the possible planning for retaliation against former diplomat Joe Wilson, who was accusing the administration of lying about Iraq weapons of mass destruction claims, the use of harsh interrogations in the so-called "War on Terror", as well as the formation of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) - the ruling body in Iraq after the invasion - and the controversial policy decisions the CPA undertook.

The filing was issued as part of an ongoing lawsuit by two government watchdog groups in an attempt to force the Bush administration to preserve the backup tapes and any email records contained on them.

"We have likely lost for all time a critical piece of our nation's history. This latest filing by the White House is yet more evidence of an administration committed to secrecy and delay at all costs," said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), and a lead attorney in the lawsuit.

The Bush administration previously revealed backup tapes for the period of September 30, 2003 through October 6, 2003 were also destroyed. This period coincides with the beginning of the Department of Justice investigation into the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.

In March, the White House disclosed many of the computer hard drives that would have contained email records and forensic data were physically destroyed as a part of a so-called "refresh program" undertaken by the White House to replace older computers. The suggestion to examine all the individual workstations came after the White House admitted to "recycling" or taping over some of the emergency backup tapes that record email records.

In previous investigations by Congressional committees, the examination of email records has been the most powerful tool in determining responsibility for potentially illegal acts committed by members of the Bush administration.

During a hearing on possible violations of the Presidential Records Act in February, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Maryland) implied the email archiving system had been intentionally destroyed by the Bush administration to allow White House staff to cover their tracks and erase evidence of wrongdoing.

"I have to believe that [American citizens] would find it completely implausible that this amount of email would just disappear by accident. And I mean to imply what I'm implying," Sarbanes said.


Matt Renner is an assistant editor and Washington reporter for Truthout.

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