It’s only been a week since Joseph Cuffari, the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, shared that the US Secret Service had deleted key text messages dating back to when rioters attacked the US Capitol. The disclosure, in a letter to the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees, said the messages from January 5 and 6, 2021 “were erased as part of a device replacement program,” adding that ‘They were removed after the Inspector General requested records of Secret Service electronic communications as part of a review of the events leading up to the January 6 insurrection.
What happened doesn’t pass the smell test. To paraphrase Marcellus from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, something seems rotten about the Secret Service.
The Secret Service has come under intense scrutiny since a report began circulating that then-Vice President Mike Pence defied Secret Service recommendations to evacuate the Capitol on Jan. 6. . 6 House Committee that an official told him that then-President Donald Trump angrily demanded that his security guards take him to the Capitol after his speech at the Ellipse.
The Secret Service pushed back against the Inspector General’s claims, saying “the insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false.” He also said he informed the Office of Inspector General “of the loss of data from some phones, but confirmed to the OIG that none of the texts he was looking for were lost during the migration”.
I find this explanation hard to believe. For eight years, I served as Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Information and Telecommunications Technology (now called the Office of Technology and Innovation, or OTI), a billion-plus-per- year responsible for information technology policy, technology investments, and overseeing the management of technology devices used by New York City’s more than 325,000 employees.
My role as Deputy Commissioner brought me to countless meetings whenever there was a major software upgrade, platform transition, device migration or other major change in the technology used by the city employees. It included everyone from rank and file police to the mayor himself.
Central to all of these conversations were the preservation of records and data and compliance with the New York State Freedom of Information Act, or FOIL, the equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act of the State of New York. federal government, or FOIA. In fact, talking about FOIL was so ingrained in the minds of city managers that it was adjectivized – something “unplayable” was part of our everyday vernacular.
Of course, New York City government, while a sprawling and complex public sector enterprise, is not the same as the federal government, a juggernaut with nearly seven times more civilian employees than New York City. But it’s almost impossible to imagine that the policies and processes for compliance with record keeping laws in the federal government would be more lax than those in the city. On the contrary, one would naturally assume – especially when dealing with an agency such as the Secret Service – that compliance with these guidelines would be much stricter than that of a local government.
Without going into the corny details of computer data management, suffice it to say that no major technology device transfer could take place without there being not one but multiple levels of backed up data and redundancy.
And keep in mind that in the public sector, especially due to FOIL and FOIA laws, IT professionals aren’t the only ones involved in major technology redesign decisions. In New York City, when an agency upgrades technology from one device to another, attorneys — representatives from each agency’s General Counsel’s Office — help ensure that all applicable data is retained. safely. Many people have their eyes set on any major tech overhaul, especially one where data is part of the mix.
And that makes Tuesday’s news that the Secret Service has turned over thousands of documents to the Jan. 6 committee, but has yet to retrieve the missing texts, all the more alarming.
If the deleted data was the result of some bizarre act of benign negligence, that data should have been easily recoverable by forensic computer specialists. The Secret Service insists they are still trying to find these missing messages.
As almost every IT professional knows, with the right resources, a good forensic IT team can collect just about any data that has been “deleted” – nothing is ever really gone for good. If in fact the Secret Service concludes that the files really did go missing, it could mean they were intentionally erased, but we’ll have to wait for the outcome of the investigation to find out.
Arick Wierson was senior media adviser to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Wierson was a deputy commissioner in the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. Currently, he advises corporate and political clients on communication strategies in the United States, Africa and Latin America. CNN