Intelligence text messages are missing but not forgotten

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A surveillance agency learned in February that the Secret Service had deleted almost all cell phone text messages from around January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, but chose not to alert Congress, according to three people briefed on the internal discussions.

That monitoring agency, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, was also preparing to issue a public warning in October 2021 that Secret Service and other Department departments would block requests for records and texts related to the Capitol attack, However, they did not do so, said those with knowledge of the matter. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal investigations.

The previously unreported revelation about the Inspector General’s month-long delay in marking the now-vanished Secret Service texts Two whistleblowers who worked with Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari provided the individuals who were aware of the internal discussions.

In recent days, a former staffer reached out to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), an independent group on government accountability, and described Cuffari’s office’s decision not to immediately disclose that the Secret Service’s records were dropped from phones as of January 2021 of the authorities had been deleted. The group forwarded the information to congressional staffers, who independently corroborated the report with a second whistleblower.

Congressional staff and two whistleblowers shared concerns that Cuffari’s office would not be alerted Congressional investigators into the missing records reduced the chances of finding critical evidence related to the Jan. 6 attack.

The sanitized texts of Secret Service agents some of those plotted President Donald Trump’s moves on Jan. 6 and shadowed Trump as he attempted to overturn the election results could shed light on what Trump was planning and saying.

“Keeping the public and Congress in the dark for months is a dereliction of duty,” said POGO investigator Nick Schwachenbach. “Experts in digital forensics may have been working to recover these lost texts a long time ago.”

Cuffari’s office did not respond directly to the alert allegations Wednesday. His office issued an email saying he raised concerns in his semi-annual reports to Congress in September and March that Homeland Security and Secret Service were delaying his office’s investigation into the attack on the Capitol. The reports do not mention the text messages.

The independent government accountability group has urged President Biden to remove Cuffari.

On Wednesday, Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chairman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack issued a joint statement expressing their Expressed concern that updating the Secret Service’s phone system has resulted in the “deletion” of records – a possible violation of federal law – and that “every effort must be made to recover the lost data.”

“The US Secret Service system migration process resumed on January 27, 2021, just three weeks after the attack on the Capitol in which the Vice President of the United States, while under Secret Service protection, escaped a violent mob hunt for him,” the lawmaker said.

“Four House Committees had already requested these critical records from the Department of Homeland Security before the records were apparently lost.” Said. “Furthermore, the procedure for retaining content prior to this cleanup appears to have violated federal records retention requirements and may constitute a possible violation of the federal records law.”

The missing text could provide a more detailed roadmap for Trump’s actions and plans around January 6th.

They could also confirm or refute White House staffer Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony before the committee, in which she said a senior Secret Service official told her on Jan. 6 that Trump had angrily pounced on the agent who was his Security detail conducted after being told that he could not join his supporters on their march to the Capitol.

Hutchinson testified that the official — Tony Ornato, who was then temporarily serving as deputy White House chief of staff — told her Trump also threw himself on the steering wheel of the Suburban he was traveling in. Ornato has denied telling Hutchinson so, according to a Secret Service spokesman, and Trump’s former commando leader, Bobby Engel, has claimed no such physical altercation took place.

The Secret Service said it turned over 10,569 pages of information to the committee Tuesday in response to a subpoena issued last week, according to a copy of the agency’s letter the committee released Wednesday.

Intelligence confirmed that on June 11, 2021, between December 7, 2020 and January 8, 2021, Cuffari had requested texts sent or received by 24 intelligence officials, two days after the riot.

Agency officials said they found a text message, a call for help from US Capitol Police to Secret Service when Trump’s supporters searched the Capitol that day.

in the the In a five-page letter, Deputy Director of Intelligence Ronald L. Rowe Jr. told the committee that in June 2021, the Inspector General’s Homeland Security Office asked her for text messages sent and received by 24 Secret Service officials around that time, and that she are currently unaware” of lost texts. He wrote that officials are trying to determine if this is true and are making “extensive efforts” to determine if the messages were lost and “if so, whether such texts are recoverable.”

Officials are pulling “all available metadata” to determine what text messages the 24 employees, who have not been publicly identified, sent on January 5 or 6, 2021, are conducting “forensic investigations of all available equipment” they used and interrogate them to see if the messages were stored somewhere the Secret Service hadn’t looked.

However, the intelligence letter said it had disclosed “substantial amounts” of records to the OIG’s office.

The Secret Service also set the schedule for replacing the phones and said its employees are trained to retain documents under the Federal Records Act.

Officials said the planning process for replacing the phones began in fall 2020, and the chief information and chief operating officers decided in December to switch to Intune, a software management application for Microsoft mobile devices, the following month.

The agency said it gave instructions to employees to keep content on their phones and began the “migration process” two days later, on Jan. 27. The migration ended on April 1, 2021. However, individual agents were allowed to decide which texts should be preserved, and the rest were wiped out.

The deleted texts raise significant concerns that the agency disregarded basic document retention required by the Federal Records Act at the same time as congressional and executive investigators were searching for those records.

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who has testified before Congress about keeping federal and presidential records, said the Federal Records Act requires government officials to keep all relevant records, including emails and text messages.

He said the Secret Service has an obligation to protect the text messages for historical reasons, but also because it is a law enforcement agency should they be needed for congressional or criminal investigations.

Even the accidental loss of information “should still be treated as a serious matter,” he said.

“These records are the history of the nation,” he said. “That’s the point of the Federal Records Act.”

The Secret Service’s claim that it could no longer recover reams of text messages exchanged days before and on the day of one of the most chilling attacks on democracy in American history has spurred a legion of information technology gurus and amateur sleuths into action. Some have taken to social media to dispute the intelligence agency’s claim that the lyrics are lost forever – and are busy postulating possible ways to recover the lost lyrics.

Schwachenbach said Cuffari’s delay in reporting the issue necessarily lowers the likelihood of retrieving data that hasn’t been properly backed up and archived.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/07/20/secret-service-national-archives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_world Intelligence text messages are missing but not forgotten

Dustin Huang

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