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David hosts ZDNet Government -- ZDNet's politics and policy coffeehouse -- where civics lessons meet technology, nothing is sacred, and everything is fair game.

Issue: White House Email

Email at the White House is strategic communication at the highest levels of the Executive Branch. It’s deep, personal, candid, unfiltered communication within the leadership of the most powerful nation on Earth. And it’s very, very broken.

Over the past few years, David has explored how something as seemingly benign as White House email can have freaky national security consequences.

Could a crippled email system have led to strategic mistakes in Iraq?

The White House claimed 5,000,000 emails may be missing. After unprecedented research, David discovered the problem is about so much more than missing emails. Unchecked, some really, really bad things could happen.

Has the Hatch Act been used as an excuse to bypass government servers, thereby giving a reasonable-sounding excuse to circumvent the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act?

Learn about technical and security concerns that blast through political rhetoric and even party affiliation.

Is IT management at the White House as incomprehensibly unprofessional as it seems – or is a pretense of cluelessness being used to divert questions of disclosure?

Read this book and you’ll understand the three root causes of the White House email problem. You’ll also understand how six very doable recommendations can quickly and easily bring security and safety back to White House email.

This is a heck of a story. Prepare to be freaked out.

Further reading

David has published quite a few articles on this issue since the book’s first release. You can read them below, where they are presented in reverse chronological order:

CNN – ANDERSON COOPER 360 | December 14, 2009

Some stories refuse to go away. One such story is the case of the missing White House emails. Over the course of two years beginning in 2007, I documented this story in my book, "Where Have All The Emails Gone?" and followed it up with articles written both here on AC360 and elsewhere.

CNN – ANDERSON COOPER 360 | September 2, 2009

President Roosevelt may have had to contend with Hitler and Stalin, not to mention an occasionally naked Churchill (look it up), but at least he didn’t have to deal with the blogosphere. President Obama has no such luck. He’s the second President who not only has a fourth estate, but a completely unruly and often full-goose-bozo body of bloggers, just looking for any excuse to increase their "hits" and drive up the pennies they’re given for their thoughts from Google’s ad revenue service.

CNN – ANDERSON COOPER 360 | January 26, 2009

The Bush White House email story just gets weirder and weirder. In his inauguration speech, President Barack Obama told us, "The time has come to set aside childish things." Within the United States Government, apparently old habits die hard.

CNN – ANDERSON COOPER 360 | January 22, 2009

We now have some official confirmation that President Obama will be using a BlackBerry device in office. In the first of his Daily Press Briefings, newly minted White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs answered some questions about the President’s BlackBerry.

CNN – ANDERSON COOPER 360 | January 22, 2009

Say you work for a new boss and want to keep your job. Now, say your new boss is the first-day-on-the-job President of the United States. Now, let’s say your boss, the President, tells you that not only are you not going to take his BlackBerry from him, you’re going to find a way to make sure he can keep it. What do you do? What do you do?

CNN – ANDERSON COOPER 360 | January 19, 2009

It can be breathtaking to watch the ultimate powers in America taunt each other like children in a schoolyard. Amid all the excitement over our brand-new President, there’s an epic battle going on to preserve the history of our outgoing one.

CNN – ANDERSON COOPER 360 | January 16, 2009

Magistrate Judge John Facciola issued an emergency order Thursday for the preservation of White House emails. In his groundbreaking opinion, he definitively affirms that White House email messages are documents of major historical importance.

CNN – ANDERSON COOPER 360 | January 14, 2009

Moving is never fun and when moving day is only six days away, the last thing you need is a new project. Unfortunately, the outgoing White House IT staff now has a new project – collecting and preserving White House email.

CNN – ANDERSON COOPER 360 | January 14, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama is apparently still getting used to the limitations the Presidency will place on his life , including restrictions or even a ban on his cherished BlackBerry device, which he says he’s "still clinging to." So what if Barack kept his BlackBerry?


This important Open Letter makes the case that when Mr. Obama and his team enter the White House on January 20, they will be walking into an active crime scene – and they need to treat it as such.

The crime is an admitted violation of the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act by the Bush administration. Gewirtz contends there is forensic evidence that needs to be gathered before it’s lost in the flurry of incoming activity.


Another senior government official has had his BlackBerry stolen by another foreign intelligence agency. But this time, it’s not an American official. According to the U.K.’s The Sunday Times, a senior aide to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had his BlackBerry stolen by Chinese intelligence agents while on a trip to China back in January.

This latest report is particularly juicy because the senior Downing Street aide got caught in what’s probably the world’s oldest intelligence ploy, the "honeytrap," an intelligence scam where an attractive female spy is used to lure a government official into some form of compromising position.

Returning to the story of our bonking Brit and his BlackBerry bandit. Just how much trouble did this aide’s problematic peccadillo get him into? Of more concern, how much damage did our international man of mystery’s "special branch" do to Britain’s security – and, by extension, the security of her allies?


This latest Special Report spotlights a surprising lack of government record-keeping oversight, along with critical cyber-security gaps, both revealed in last week’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit of the National Archives and Records Administration and four key government agencies: Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission, and HUD.

The GAO audit was provided to the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Unfortunately, while the GAO described certain record-keeping and computer management practices at these various agencies, they may not have fully understood how the practices they documented would lead to troubling security flaws at the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Trade Commission, and they certainly didn’t point them out explicitly for the Committee to investigate. This report provides those details.


This latest Special Report spotlights the increasingly apparent examples of massive negligence within the White House Office of the Chief Information Officer, this time resulting in evidence that the White House has irrevocably broken at least two key federal laws: the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act.

The Special Report also explores how ranking members of the House Oversight Committee have virtually guaranteed that none of White House’s email problems will be resolved until the end of the next administration, four years after George W. Bush leaves office.


Our ongoing story about the security of White House email took a strange turn on Friday, proving some of the national security concerns David has been discussing to be true in a particularly tangible and unfortunate way.

What makes this topic so troubling, of course, is the serious national security breach that may have occurred. But there’s more to the story, including issues of the relationship between the United States and Mexico, and even how racial stereotyping may have contributed to spinning this story in a way that may be obscuring the true magnitude of the possible damage to our national security.


David has a new article out. This time, though, it’s not in a ZATZ magazine. Instead, it’s running in the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

In this important perspective piece, David suggests five important points journalists are overlooking when it comes to the missing White House emails.


In the melange of technology and politics that describes the story of the White House email controversy, there is yet another chapter. In our latest plot twist, the White House CIO claims that email messages from 2003 to 2005 either can’t be produced because they’re not missing, because the computers they were on have been destroyed, or because it’s too hard to find them.

In this article, David digs in and provides a detailed analysis and point-counterpoint to the White House’s response, along with exploring a key element that all of the parties to this controversy seem to be missing. And, sadly, he’s also uncovered at least two new serious security risks at the White House. Read on.


On Tuesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held hearings into the missing White House email messages. After watching the three hours of hearings and reviewing the various supporting transcripts, David’s first impression can be summarized in three words: what a mess!


Even though our book is finally out, that doesn’t mean the story of White House email is over. Far from it. In fact, this week saw a number of new developments in Washington as the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform gets ready to hold hearings on this topic.

In this Special Report, David gives you an overview of the latest developments as well as his analysis.

Some of David's affilliations...

ZATZ Publishing

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ZDNet / CBS Interactive

ZDNet/CBSi Logos David is CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer. He also hosts ZDNet's DIY-IT and ZDNet Government blogs.

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U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute

USSPI Logo David is Director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit research and policy organization.