DHS Was Routinely Wiping Phones of Political Appointees

Sigh.

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.

FILED UNDER: National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    This is absolutely crazy. Anybody who has worked for an organization larger than 42 people, and certainly anybody who has held a security clearance knows this stuff backward and forward.

    There is no excuse, and there needs to be serious consequences for such a violation of public trust.

    ReplyReply
    8
  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    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.

    And while nothing will happen to the people actually responsible for this, you can bet you’re gonna have to take that training twice this year now.

    I remember in 2019 I ended up having to take whistleblower training three times in one year because every time Trump retaliated against a whistleblower, they’d make us all redo it

    ReplyReply
    7
  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Heh, reminds me of the year I got pulled in by the union 6 times for random drug testing. Random my ass. I’m pretty sure they kept pulling my name out of the hat because they knew I was clean and needed to fill in the “125 tested this month” line on their forms without actually requiring anybody to go to drug counseling for the grave sin of smoking a joint on the way home from work.

    ReplyReply
    4
  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the DHS routinely wiping the phones of political appointees. Repeat after Frank Wilhoit:

    Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

    Pretty safe bet that DHS is mostly populated with those of a more “conservative” bent.

    ReplyReply
    7
  5. Kathy says:

    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.

    Until now, I had no reason to question or wonder about Biden’s competence or fitness.

    ReplyReply
    4
  6. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Pretty safe bet that DHS is mostly populated with those of a more “conservative” bent.

    James immediately previous post concerns the FBI not even pretending to investigate Kavanaugh. As we continue to hope democracy will survive in the United States, are we going to recognize that cops, up and down the chain from the Uvalde school district Keystone Kops through the big city departments and the selectively Secret Service to the supposedly elite FBI are a problem?

    ReplyReply
    9
  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: I thought about going with a slightly stronger word than “conservative” maybe something that begins with an F, but I figured most folks could figure it out on their own. And yeah, policing in this country has some serious issues, and I have no idea how we fix it.

    ReplyReply
    2
  8. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Whenever I had to undergo another training session on required actions for transactions above $10,000 I basically spaced out and worked my to-do list, reprioritized and shuffled the sequencing.

    I worked in data either salaried or on a contract. I was not a party to those transactions. My job was to build query interfaces that idiots could figure out and navigate. The required training was immaterial.

    10% of my brain was paying attention, but I mostly used those hours as an opportunity to think through my to-do list.

    Look at it this way, that was an hour or two away from your desk where you did not get a call that was going to screw up your whole week.

    A win-win in my book.

    ReplyReply
  9. Christine says:

    But her emails….

    ReplyReply
    3
  10. al Ameda says:

    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.

    Last night I watched about 15 minutes of a segment that described Cuffari’s past actions, and I was amazed that Biden did not take actions to remove and replace Cuffari 18 months ago.

    I sure hope that in 2023 Biden decides that he will not run for re-election.

    ReplyReply
    2
  11. Gustopher says:

    Does leaving Cuffari in place mean that he is compelled to assist investigations into this, where being unemployed does not? That’s the only reason I can see for not firing him. It would be giving him extra rope to hang himself, and cutting down opportunities to fight subpoenas.

    ReplyReply
    1
  12. dazedandconfused says:

    There is one advantage to keeping Cuffari for a bit, in that position he can not ignore a Congressional subpoena and an IG citing the 5th would be absurd. That guy needs an “exit interview” under oath.

    I suspect OPSEC may have spawned the policy of wiping DHS phones, one of the bugbears of lumping all the spooks, high security SS together in one dept. with general LE. The automatic default is to the highest security.

    ReplyReply
    3

Speak Your Mind

*