White House Admits No Back-Up Tapes for E-mail Before October 2003

In response to a federal court order issued last week, on January 15, 2008, the White House responded to questions concerning back-up copies of e-mails missing from White House servers. The White House refused to acknowledge any missing e-mails, instead stating that it “has undertaken an independent effort to determine whether there may be anomalies in Exchange e-mail counts,” during the 2003-2005 period.

In a sworn statement, the Chief Information Officer of the White House Office of Administration admitted the White House had recycled its e-mail back-up tapes before October 2003 and only began retaining the back-ups starting at that point. The White House also admitted that “at this stage, this office does not know if any emails were not properly preserved in the archiving process,” in the period 2003-2005.

This is the latest development in lawsuits filed by the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Ethics in Washington (CREW) against the Executive Office of the President (EOP), including the White House Office of Administration (OA), and the National Archives and Records Administration. The two groups are seeking the recovery and preservation of millions of e-mail messages that were apparently may have been deleted from White House computers between March 2003 and October 2005.

“Two years after a special prosecutor concluded that key e-mails were missing from the White House system administered by the Office of Administration, the White House astonishingly now admits it has no back-up tapes from before October 2003 and doesn’t know if any e-mails are missing,” said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive.

White House officials have acknowledged in press and Congressional briefings that e-mails are missing from the White House archive. However, they have maintained up to now that while some e-mails might not have been archived automatically, that they may still exist on backup tapes. In 2002, the Bush administration abandoned the electronic records management system put in place by the Clinton White House.