Senators Hoping To Keep CIA From Destroying Most Of Its Employees' Emails

from the agency-replacing-'delete'-buttons-faster-than-ever dept

The CIA and Senate have found more to fight about. With the “Torture Report” mostly in the hands of the White House at this point, the two are now battling over the CIA’s planned alterations to its email retention policies.

Key senators are pushing back against a CIA plan to destroy older emails of “non-senior” agency officials.

The heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday sent a letter opposing the proposal, under which only the highest ranking CIA workers would have their email correspondence permanently saved.

The plan “could allow the destruction of crucial documentary evidence regarding the CIA’s activities that is essential for Congress, the public and the courts to know,” Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) wrote to the National Archives…

The senators are asking the National Archives to step up and somehow prevent this from happening — most likely by declaring “non-senior” emails to be retainable records that must be turned over rather than destroyed. The CIA would prefer to destroy the emails of all but the top 22 employees three years after they leave, or when “no longer needed, whichever is sooner.” Unfortunately for the senators making this request, the National Archive has already signaled its agreement with the CIA’s proposed retention schedule changes.

In tentatively approving the request, the National Archives noted that the emailed information “is unlikely” to exist in other forms that will be marked for permanent storage.

Any information not found in those other files likely “has little or no research value,” it added.

Senators Feinstein and Chambliss — in rare agreement with transparency and government accountability activists — disagree with the National Archives’ assessment.

“In our experience, email messages are essential to finding CIA records that may not exist in other so-called permanent records at the CIA,” Feinstein and Chambliss wrote.

Longer retention is needed, especially for an agency as secretive as the CIA. The standard wait period for sensitive document declassification is 25 years. Correspondence related to declassified documents will be long gone by that point.

Even in terms of normal FOIA requests, three years is cutting things close. Rarely does an FOIA-worthy event come to light within days or weeks of its occurrence. It’s generally weeks, months or years down the road. By the time documents are requested, ignored by the CIA’s FOIA staff and finally pried free by a federal lawsuit*, responsive documents may already have been destroyed. Without a doubt, the CIA knows this is a distinct possibility and any trimming of retention periods only makes it more likely that relevant communications will be permanently removed from circulation.


Filed Under: , , , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Senators Hoping To Keep CIA From Destroying Most Of Its Employees' Emails”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That One Guy (profile) says:

Destruction of evidence, government style

The CIA would prefer to destroy the emails of all but the top 22 employees three years after they leave, or when “no longer needed, whichever is sooner.”

Don’t have to be able to see the future to see how that would work out in practice.

“That email looks incriminating and/or makes us look bad, and no one is asking to see it right this very moment(because they have no idea it exists), so clearly it’s ‘no longer needed’, delete it.”

David says:

Re: Destruction of evidence, government style

Well, you beat me to it. And yours is the first answer. So this obvious interpretation/implementation just jumped out to at last two readers of the passage.

Which makes it likely that it will jump out to anybody who is asking himself “can I order deletion under these guidelines?”.

How often are you going to hear “This is definitely the last thing we need right now. Delete it!”?

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Destruction of evidence, government style

Which makes it likely that it will jump out to anybody who is asking himself “can I order deletion under these guidelines?”

I’m afraid your attempt to predict the future, and read the minds of people who you don’t even know exist, has failed.

I’m wondering why anyone even cares what the CIA’s opinion on this is. The CIA was paid to perform a service. This stuff is part of the record that was created in performing that service. It’s not the CIA’s property. It’s the property of those who paid the CIA for their services, namely the taxpaying public.

CIA, STFU! We’re not the least bit interested in your opinion, and I’m growing increasingly annoyed at having to listen to your whining. The next thing I expect to hear from you is silence! If you’d prefer to spend the rest of eternity in that Afghan “Salt Pit” of yours, by all means, continue protesting. Barring any further interruptions, court is adjourned.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Who really cares? Honestly. If nothing is being done about what us already know how is this even a thing?

History cares! The future is calling, and it has questions which need to be answered. We are obliged to preserve the record of what was done in our name, else they may have to waste time and effort doing it again themselves, which would be stupid and a waste.

If they didn’t want to answer, they shouldn’t have cashed the cheque. It appears they’re confused as to who is in charge here, and it’s not the CIA.

Well, in my perfect world, it isn’t.

TheOldHippie (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If I were a transparency minded Senator who just lost his seat, I think I’d be aware and worried about a petty and revenge minded agency. An agency well versed in all manners of tradecraft. I’d worry about an unexplained heart attack, an airline flight falling from the sky, car brakes that suddenly fail. A message must be sent.

I’ve lost all faith in my country’s government, as might be obvious…

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: A pessimist is merely an optimist with more experience

Anyone, person or agency, who practices and supports torture of prisoners(or torture at all) has indicated that they no longer have any limits on what they will do, and what they consider acceptable as long as it furthers their own goals.

The CIA is just such an agency, and as such it wouldn’t surprise me either if they did decide to off someone who aired their dirty laundry in order to ‘send a message’.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A pessimist is merely an optimist with more experience

The CIA is just such an agency, and as such it wouldn’t surprise me either if they did decide to off someone who aired their dirty laundry in order to ‘send a message’.

Which is why it is so important for the rest of us to ensure they don’t get to sanitize the record of what was done in our name! Mistakes and errors happen and we learn from mistakes how not to make them.

Lieing and obfuscating and hiding the truth is entirely a different thing and cannot be tolerated.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: When I was a wee lad...

During the cold war, tradecraft was notoriously non-lethal with few exceptions. The feeding of a mole in the KGB, feet first, into a blast furnace, and the French dumping of a political target out a plane were notorious as much for their lethality as their brutality.

But yeah, when our torture program became known during Iraqi Freedom, it seems that those organizations lost their moral compass somewhere along the line.

Funny how even when it is clear that a big agency like the CIA has gone rogue that we have no way to shut it down. Maybe we need a classic torches-and-pitchforks mob to visit Langley.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’d worry about an unexplained heart attack …

Why? Everything that has or ever will live is eventually going to die. Now, next week, next year, next decade; what difference does it make? You’ll be dead!

I only worry that I’ll do the right thing while I’m still in a position to do it. I don’t want good people to have to resent my ever existing. Self respect is a precious thing. There is only one person in the whole friggin’ Universe who can give me that.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

By the way, I’m an old hippie too, but we knew back then that there were two kinds of hippies. There were the “Flower Children” who were stumbling (or dancing) around in a drug induced haze sticking flowers into national guardsmen’s rifle barrels, and there were the “Freaks” (or “Phreaques”) who were scurrying inside the walls of civilization like “Stainless Steel Rats”, determined to change the world for the better by cocking it up from the inside. “Sneakers” was a terrific movie which explored the differences between the two.

On the topic of Hippies, here’s what I was doing last night:


If you remember the album, he announced that set with, “You can leave if you want to. We’re just jammin’.”

Best rendition of the Star Spangled Banner ever! Jimi was a penultimate phreaque. 🙂

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:


“Please accept our humble apologies but IT’S OUR JOB TO INVADE LIVES IN ORDER TO PROTECT THE PEOPLE WHO HIRED US. Our job is to learn what you are up to in case it might cause damage to our employers. However, we are trying to learn how to be less dickheaded while doing it. It ain’t easy and mistakes get made, but we’re trying.

Your patience is appreciated.”

That’s all I ask.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The first thing these people did when they caught a whiff of potential legal consequences for their inhuman crimes, was burn all records that could incriminate them.

… which is why we have two sets of off-site backups in separate locations and everything is now automatically beamed up to storage as it transpires.

“Don’t try to play no boogie woogie on the king of rock and roll.”

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: We the people don't own anything. Not really.

But we don’t authorize their checks. Congress does, and the CIA seems to have them in their pocket, probably with biographical leverage as an insurance policy.

This is a case of the power of the bureau over the representatives that govern them. In this case the bureau is a greater force than the administration.

The people could change that, but it’s going to take torches, and pitchforks, and a willingness to be on the receiving end of a massacre.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The Cover-Your-Own-Ass culture...

…once again rears its ugly head.

So long as we have greater consequences for making mistakes than for engaging in heinous action against human lives, we’re going to continue to do the latter.

How many lives, how many torture victims, how many casualties is it going to take before we decide that even our personal survival isn’t worth carrying this out?

I expect a lot of government agents confront this issue every motherfucking day.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The Cover-Your-Own-Ass culture...

“Insubordinate” is more what I’d go with.

The insubordinates are the ones who refuse to pack the trains.

And good on them for refusing! Some commanders deserve to be fragged; tough love. Don’t ask for things you’ve no right to, and you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get them. 🙂 The converse (obverse? inverse?) is also true (I think).

Buenos nochas (or TANSTAFL, or “feed your head”, or whatever floats the boat).

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I'm right there with you.

It’s a brave and bold thing to be insubordinate, and I suspect (on a parallel subject) that good cops seeing the corrupted (and corrupting) infrastructure want to act on that, tell their bosses to go to hell when given illegal orders, and tell their peers to shape up when their methods get shady or questionable.

But it’s not easy for an unemployed cop to get work. It’s not easy for anyone to get work right now.

And if these are your stereotypical people with families, they’ve got dependents who need to eat. So they begrudgingly toe the line. And ultimately, they break inside.

We should celebrate insubordinates who refuse to play along. But in most cases it ends up very bad for them.

So bad that people are terrified and strive first to cover their ass.

And so they keep packing the trains, knowing full well where they’re going.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 I'm right there with you.

And so they keep packing the trains, knowing full well where they’re going.

I’ve made a lot of enemies down through the years pointing this out to people (often Jews). Hitler’s plan was no secret. They were warned years before what vile plan he had in store, yet they just kept their eyes closed, stuffed fingers into their ears, and sang “La la la …” to drown out uncomfortable truths they were unwilling to accept as even possible.

The inmates in the Warsaw ghetto fought back. The inmates of Sobibor fought back. Were the rest lazy or stupid? I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, and especially not innocent civilians, but damn! I would’ve been shivving every Nazi I ran into in the back, or at least potting them from 300 yards away. What’s their excuse?!?

“A moment comes and if you wish to look upon yourself as human you must take some kind of action. Otherwise, you can read the newspapers and congratulate yourself on your good fortune.”
— “Dark Star” by Alan Furst

fwiw, I recommend everything Furst wrote. It’s scary good.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you can't remember

destroying internal documents so FOI requests can’t hurt, means the organization will be destroying it own corporate memory, it makes the organization more vulnerable to corruption and infiltration, to making big mistakes. But as long as no-one spots the criminal, anti-american activity the Spooks can keep on being Spooks

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...