IRS Claims Two Years Of Emails Were Destroyed In A 'Computer Crash;' Congressman Asks The NSA To Supply 'Missing' Email Metadata

from the hilarious-except-for-the-tax-dollars-funding-the-debacle dept

The IRS is currently being investigated by Congress for some possibly politically-motivated "attention" it directed towards "Tea Party" and other conservative groups that operated as tax-exempt entities. Along the way, IRS official Lois Lerner, who was the first to publicly disclose the inappropriate targeting, was also one of the first government officials to plead the Fifth (twice) in government hearings.

The Congressional investigation demanded copies of Lois Lerner's emails from the IRS. Some were turned over to the House Ways and Means Committee, but not everything it sought. Now, the IRS is telling the committee that it's not going to get everything it asked for.
The IRS has told Congress that it lost more than two years’ worth of emails involving former IRS official Lois Lerner, due to a computer crash.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) on Friday said it was “unacceptable” that he was just learning of this problem now, after a lengthy investigation into Lerner’s involvement in the IRS targeting scandal.
Camp points out that the IRS withheld these emails for over a year before suddenly "discovering" they were unavailable. The IRS says it can find everything Lerner sent to and received from other IRS employees but nothing containing correspondence with those outside the agency.

Obviously, this convenient "computer crash" has generated a lot of skepticism. For one thing, a "computer crash" doesn't really have the power to destroy electronic communications. Email is always almost stored somewhere else other than the local user's computer. And even if the IRS meant a "server crash" instead of a "computer crash," any decent server system contains multiple levels of redundancy.

The Blaze sought input from Norman Cillo, a former Microsoft project manager, who presented six reasons why he believes the IRS is lying about its inability to recover these emails. Number one on the list seems to be the most applicable.
I believe the government uses Microsoft Exchange for their email servers. They have built-in exchange mail database redundancy. So, unless they did not follow Microsoft's recommendations they are telling a falsehood.
The IRS's own policies on email state that its employees use both Microsoft Outlook and Exchange, which means it should have some form of backup available.
Secure Messaging enrollment is an automated process for all LAN accounts with an Exchange mailbox in IRS. You can find the instructions for configuring the Outlook client to use the certificates at the Secure Enterprise Messaging Systems (SEMS) web site: http://documentation.sems.enterprise.irs.gov/.
According to Cillo, the only other explanation for the IRS's inability to recover these emails is that the agency is "totally mismanaged and has the worst IT department ever." Unfortunately, the government seems to have a lot of mismanaged and terrible IT departments, so this may be closer to the truth than anyone would really like to admit. Perhaps the general ineptitude of large government agencies is behind the Treasury Department's policy that all email sent to or from IRS employees be "archived" via hard copy printouts.
If you create or receive email messages during the course of your daily work, you are responsible for ensuring that you manage them properly. The Treasury Department’s current email policy requires emails and attachments that meet the definition of a federal record be added to the organization’s files by printing them (including the essential transmission data) and filing them with related paper records. If transmission and receipt data are not printed by the email system, annotate the paper copy.
There's more information here, citing the IRS's own internal guidelines on tape backups, etc., that suggest further levels of redundancy, as well as the commissioner of the IRS testifying that the agency stores its emails on servers.

Critics believe the IRS has simply "vanished" the crucial emails in order to cut Lerner adrift and make it appear she acted alone. Any evidence that would tie outside government agencies (including the administration itself) into this situation has been deemed unrecoverable. Supposedly, there should be paper copies of the missing emails, but no one in Congress has requested these and the IRS certainly isn't offering to look.

But one Congressman thinks he has a solution to the missing email dilemma. Steve Stockman (last seen here threatening to bring a defamation lawsuit against someone who uttered true facts about his criminal past) knows some people who have a whole lot of email data just laying around.
“I have asked NSA Director Rogers to send me all metadata his agency has collected on Lois Lerner’s email accounts for the period which the House sought records,” said Stockman. “The metadata will establish who Lerner contacted and when, which helps investigators determine the extent of illegal activity by the IRS.”
Yeah, let me know how that works out for you, Steve. The NSA can't even confirm or deny its monthly water usage at its Utah data site, much less that it has metadata pertaining to Americans' communications.

[Sidebar: I do really love the fact that this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common -- the use of the NSA as the backup-of-last-resort for phone/email/internet communications data. If anyone claims it can't find email X or phone record Y, someone's going to say, "Hey, I'll bet the NSA has a copy!" Hilarious. The NSA will never again be allowed to pretend it doesn't harvest data on American citizens.]

The whole letter, which begins with some light ass-kissing of new NSA director Michael Rogers ("thank you for your 33 years of, and continued service to, our country...") and closes with a bit of grandstanding, surreally asking "the Agency" to send all relevant metadata on the missing Lerner emails to "Donny@mail.house.gov." All in all, probably one of the most incongruous demands the NSA has ever received, a letter which conjures up the image of a late-night meeting in an underground parking garage, with sunglassed NSA liaisons handing over a briefcase full of metadata to a 19-year-old intern dressed in his dad's suit.

It's pretty hard to shake the impression that this is a coverup. As always, the specter of pure ineptitude lurks in the background, as it often does when large bureaucracies tangle with technology. But until the IRS presents further evidence detailing how exactly these emails went missing, it's safe to assume there's been an active effort made to cover up government impropriety.

Filed Under: backups, computer crash, congress, dave camp, irs, lois lerner, metadata, nsa, servers, steve stockman, surveillance


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  1. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 16 Jun 2014 @ 10:24am

    Good luck, Senator

    So what does the Honorable Senator Stockman plan to due when the NSA tells him he can't have any metadata?

    "We wouldn't be able to share such data with Congress due to national security concerns. You're not cleared to see it, Senator. Anyway, it doesn't exist, because we don't record that data on the IRS."

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