DHS Was Routinely Wiping Phones of Political Appointees
ABC News (“DHS to pause wiping political appointees’ phones after Jan. 6 committee complains“):
The Department of Homeland Security will review its electronic retention policies, according to a memo obtained by ABC News Thursday, and will halt wiping political appointees’ phones until the review is complete.
The review comes in the wake of a retention policy that caused the U.S. Secret Service to wipe text messages from Jan. 6 and surrounding days, losing all text messages from the days and drawing ire from the House Jan. 6 committee.
“Earlier this month, Secretary Mayorkas directed the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the Office of the General Counsel to create and lead a Department-wide working group to conduct a 30-day review of the policies and practices for electronic message retention currently in effect throughout DHS and to recommend any necessary improvements,” the memo written by General Counsel Jonathan Meyer said.
“Such messages include, but are not limited to, email, social media messages, instant messages, and text messages. As technology continues to rapidly evolve, the working group will ensure DHS continues to comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and guidance so as to fully meet the expectations of Congress and our other oversight entities, other key stakeholders, and the American public,” the memo said.
The directive, sent to department heads, also said the agency will not wipe political appointees phones until the review is complete.
“Effective immediately and until such time as any additional technical controls recommended by the working group are implemented, DHS agencies and offices are directed to preserve either the actual mobile devices (and accompanying access information) or complete fully accessible backups of all device content for all members of the Senior Executive Service or equivalent and political appointees, whenever such an employee departs or would have their device replaced or wiped for any reason. Mobile devices include smart phones, tablets, and other devices with equivalent capabilities,” the memo read.
As a Department of Defense and Department of the Navy employee, I’m required to waste several hours each year completing redundant and poorly-crafted mandatory training requirements. While frustrating and more than a wee bit insulting, this has the virtue of reminding us of our responsibilities under applicable laws and regulations. Among those is a duty to preserve anything that could be construed as a government record.
I don’t know whether DHS employees have such a requirement. But it’s unfathomable to me that their goddamn general counsel was not only heretofore unaware that it’s illegal to destroy the communications of senior agency officials but allowed doing so to become a matter of affirmative policy.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chair the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees, on Monday renewed calls for Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to step away from the watchdog’s investigation.
“We recently called for you to step aside from this matter and for a new IG to be appointed in light of revelations that you had failed to keep Congress informed of your inability to obtain key information from the Secret Service,” the chairs said in a letter to Cuffari. “Removing yourself from this investigation is even more urgent today.”
“These documents also indicate that your office may have taken steps to cover up the extent of missing records,” the chairs added.
If Cuffari is not under investigation by the Department of Justice for possible criminal indictment, the Attorney General should be fired forthwith.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that “no,” President Joe Biden did not plan to fire Cuffari, after some senators have called for his removal over his handling of text messages related to Jan. 6.
That honestly baffles me. There’s simply zero upside to keeping him in office.
Last month, Cuffari told Congress that the U.S. Secret Service had deleted text messages from Jan. 5 and 6 and that record reviews by DHS attorneys were causing months-long delays.
A spokesperson for the Secret Service acknowledged in a recent statement that some phone data from January 2021 was lost as the result of a pre-planned data transfer, noting that the transfer was underway when the IG’s office made the request in February 2021.
The committees also said that former DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli was using his personal phone, potentially for official government businesses, and Congress was not notified by the inspector general.
This is, at best, an absolute clown show. We’re decades into the Internet era now and senior officials have been issued smartphones for quite some time now. We’re no longer in the Wild West for the modern communications environment.