Monday, April 09, 2007

Big media notices computergate

Well, I had hoped to spend this Monday away from the blog -- much work to catch up on -- but how can we let today's expose of the White House parallel email system pass without comment? Astonishingly, the story comes to us by way of what has become a very conservative newspaper, the Los Angeles Times.
Democrats say evidence suggests the RNC e-mail system was used for political and government policy matters in violation of federal record preservation and disclosure rules.

In addition, Democrats point to a handful of e-mails obtained through ongoing inquiries suggesting the system may have been used to conceal such activities as contacts with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was convicted on bribery charges and is now in prison for fraud.
Isn't it nice to see a major news organ catch up with the blogosphere? Took 'em only...well. How many weeks has it been...?
White House officials said the system had been used appropriately and was modeled after one used by the Clinton White House political office in the late 1990s.

"The regular staffers who interface with political organizations have a separate e-mail account, and that's entirely appropriate," said White House spokesman Scott M. Stanzel. "The practice is followed to avoid inadvertent violations of the law."
When in doubt, blame Bill. You can bet the rent money that we are going to hear this talking point pushed ad infinitum when the story grows to a size that the radio rightists cannot ignore.

The difference -- which will be heeded only by those listeners with the patience to hear it -- is simple: The Clintonites used private emails only for partisan political work. Congress was able to subpoena every piece of email they wanted when they went out to the old fishin' hole during Whitewatergate and travelgate and all those other pseudogates they invented.

We know that the Rove-era emails were used for non-RNC purposes -- such as feeding info to Jack Abramoff and deep-sixing prosecutors who weren't loyal Bushies.

So now the problem becomes one of phrasing, and of anticipating the opposition. When Limbaugh and O'Reilly start bleating "Clinton did it!" -- and they will do just that -- how do we respond? How can we pare the truth down to five-to-ten one-syllable words, which is the only kind of message that might penetrate the noggins of the people who listen to Limbaugh and O'Reilly?

I hope this piece by Alexis Simendinger of the National Journal doesn't get entirely subsumed by the Times piece, because we learn some juicy new facts. Seems that the Bushies were warned about compliance with the Presidential Records Act when they took office:
On his second day as White House counsel in January, Fred Fielding said little when representatives of the National Archives and Records Administration suggested during a courtesy meeting that he might want to reissue guidance to President Bush's aides about how they should preserve e-mail messages as presidential records.
And what is the likelihood that we can recover the emails sent on the private RNC system?
The RNC's policy, Stanzel said, is to delete e-mails every 30 days, except for the e-mails of White House aides "who use the political e-mail accounts the RNC has provided them." David Almacy, White House Internet and e-communications director, told Computerworld in March that the RNC's archive exception for White House e-mails began in 2004.
I expect we'll hear a lot about that 30-day limit. (As in: "Oops, we accidentally placed that email in the to-be-deleted category. Silly us!") 'Tis BS, as those who have followed the reader commentary in this blog, and elsewhere, will know. Records of those emails are somewhere.
One former White House political aide said he vaguely recalled receiving guidance about sending e-mail on an RNC-provided BlackBerry and using a e-mail account, but he had clearer memories of getting "a billion and one" White House ethics briefings.

The e-mail instructions, from Sara Taylor, director of White House political affairs, were meant to help aides juggle dual sets of communications devices to comply with the Hatch Act and the Presidential Records Act, and to use the RNC equipment and accounts "only for political activity."
Hmm. Looks like this is one of those situations where "If the man don't listen, you got to yell a little louder":


What about those emails? You've broken either the Hatch Act or the PRA. You may be able to escape one charge or the other but not both.

Oh -- and remember that doctored photo, which one of the RNC IT firms used in a classic distraction maneuver? I like what corrente has to say:
The guys who planted this disinformation keep changing their stories. It’s an April Fool’s joke that ran from March 30 to April 4. It’s a practical joke. They’re mad because the RNC got revealed as their client for gwb43com.s nameserving. It’s a viral marketing ploy. With Republicans, changing stories mean just one thing: They’re lying.


Anonymous said...

The LA Times story is misleading.

The Clinton Admin did have DNC-provided computers, but these were not linked to the internet, and they weren't networked.

Remember, Clinton left in 2001. This was pre-BlackBerry, and back when getting a network connection was a whole lot easier.

There were no Clinton political e-mails. All e-mail went out on the EOP server, and all external web-based e-mails were blocked back then.

Anonymous said...

I meant getting a network connection was a whole lot harder, back in 2001. Only the EOP network was avaiable, as that was hardwired.

No wireless servers either back then.

Anonymous said...

"...which is the only kind of message that might penetrate the noggins of the people who listen to Limbaugh and O'Reilly?"

Huh? Why on earth do you even remotely care what those idiots think? Is one of your goals to try to get them to think the way we do? Good luck! But you're wasting your time -- dittoheads are today's grape kool-aid drinkers, the most iggornant folks on earth.

Anonymous said...

You ask: When Limbaugh and O'Reilly start bleating "Clinton did it!" [...] how do we respond? How can we pare the truth down to five-to-ten one-syllable words, which is the only kind of message that might penetrate the noggins of the people who listen to Limbaugh and O'Reilly?

How about: Never mind what Clinton did. You broke the law; so go to jail. Get a cell next to Jack's.

Realpolitik, old mate!

The line about wanting to avoid 'inadvertently' breaking the law surely meants they know they're on very weak ground.


Anonymous said...

I doubt such devices were harden and maintained by the NSA. If they were used to access government networks to get to the Internet.....then who knows what type of potential security breeches existed.

Usually such an action is denied in commercial and banking companies, think of the possibilities of an infected and/or bugged laptop running wild in the Old Executive Office Building, the West Wing, or perhaps the Pentagon.

Jilly Hall said...

1) History has been pretty consistent: Whenever they knee-jerk "Clinton did it," Clinton didn't do it.

2) The Gonzogate emails offered prima facie evidence the DoJ violated the Hatch Act. Let the Gonzales impeachment begin.

3) Deleting the emails every 30 days didn't destroy them. I have no doubt all the data that ran through our government mainframe (anything on government PCs) is backed up at least a year on what IT folks call "the tape" (not sure what it is exactly, though).

4) I hesitate to raise this, but ...

You know that Stephen S. Miller of Medigroup morph Network Exchange morph Archematics morph ChemNutra, the allege supplier of rat-poisoned pet food meal?

The first time I read the description of the product of his failed 1999 Network Exchange, New York, it struck me that it sounded just like this email subversion. Go back and read the descriptions of the company.

I blew off that thought, because if you put it all in historical context of the status and use of the Internet in 1999 vs. 2007, the puzzle pieces don't fit. The puzzle pieces also aren't fitting, for me anyway, to believe Miller's Network Exchange is likely to be the same as the one in Pasedena -- but I never say never.

Maybe someone more familiar with IT stuff could speak to how likely it could be that anyone would have thought up this email diversion circa 1999.