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IRS Recycled Lerner Hard Drive 682

phrackthat (2602661) writes The Senate Finance Committee has been informed that the IRS recycled the hard drive of Lois Lerner, which will deprive investigators of the ability to forensically retrieve emails which were supposedly deleted or lost in a "crash." This news comes after the IRS revealed that it had lost the emails of Lois Lerner and six other employees who were being investigated regarding the targeting of conservative groups and donors.
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IRS Recycled Lerner Hard Drive

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19, 2014 @08:59AM (#47270959)

    More people need to go to prison for "white collar" crimes. The brash disregard of the law has turned into an epidemic because everybody with an ounce of clout is let off the hook with a slap on the wrist.

  • by pastafazou (648001) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @08:59AM (#47270965)
    The politicization of the IRS should be the biggest scandal ever. How many other institutions are being used to pursue a political agenda instead of their true function?
    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday June 19, 2014 @10:06AM (#47271625) Homepage Journal

      How many other institutions are being used to pursue a political agenda instead of their true function?

      All of them.

      Except that is their true function. Don't mistake the window dressing for the window.

    • by amosh (109566) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @10:23AM (#47271881)

      You... you know the actual story, right? Not just the fox news version?

      This isn't an issue of "politicization". The IRS was finally DOING ITS JOB and reviewing the applications of groups applying for tax-exempt status. They thought it would save time to, rather than investigate, just assume that groups with certain key words in their name - among them "tea party" and "occupy" - were engaged in political activity which should deny them that status. Amazing how Fox never reports on any groups OTHER than their chosen ones having had problems due to this, isn't it? Well, it's much easier to change the facts to match your preconceived notions than to change your notions to match the facts. And yelling about impeaching Obama is just so durned much fun!

      In any case, the whole issue is about two things - 1. It's bad to profile people, anyone, anywhere, and 2. There is a strong group in Washington that doesn't want the IRS to be doing ANY kind of job, let alone stopping people from improperly receiving tax breaks for influencing elections. The ability to pretend it's some type of political cover-up is just gravy.

      • by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @11:44AM (#47272899) Journal
        Great, so that's why the IRS Commissioner apologized []. Why he said what happened was wrong. Because they were just doing their job, nothing really was wrong, and nothing happened worth apologizing for...

        Look, the IRS ITSELF (via the Commissioner) and the Inspector General BOTH are on-record as claiming these actions happened, they should not of happened, and they are, at the very least, the result of gross incompetence. Your trying to spin it as "nothing was wrong" simply goes against the statements of all the actual players in the game. Even President Obama [] states that "the misconduct ... is inexcusable".

        But I'm glad to know you are much more knowledgeable about the IRS Scandal than the commissioner, the Senators, the Inspector General, the President, and all the other Government and political participants who have come out and plainly stated what happened was wrong.

  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @08:59AM (#47270971)
    I am sitting here trying to imagine the look on a judges face as I explain the same type of personal misconduct....

    yeah, that's right, the Do you think I'm stupid? look.

    • Re:whistling (Score:4, Insightful)

      by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @09:02AM (#47270995)
      The question to ask is: Did the drive get destroyed prior to a retention order being issued?

      If so, then that's SOP; Dead hardware is recycled.

      If not, someone goes to jail.
      • I would say the question would be where are the computers that were on the receiving end of those emails? Perhaps they were the other half dozen that "failed" as well? If the smell of bullshit is overwhelming, you don't actually need to find it to know it's there.
      • Re:whistling (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @09:22AM (#47271163)

        The question to ask is: Did the drive get destroyed prior to a retention order being issued?

        If so, then that's SOP; Dead hardware is recycled.

        If not, someone goes to jail.

        The recycling of the hardware isn't a question in my mind. Of course they recycle hardware...
        No email archiving? really? Of an IRS director?
        All of her emails were really stored in a local PST file, with no backup what-so-ever?
        And after that hard drive failed, with no backup, you then destroyed the drive?

        Now that is a series of coincidental incompetence that I just cannot accept.
        It's fathomable yes, but the Republicans certainly have the right to turn this into a full on circus.
        Nothing Bush ever did was this obviously corrupt and he was up to all sorts of evil.
        I always thought of Obama as similar to Jimmy Carter. I disagree with his policies, he's failing miserably, but his hearts in the right place.
        Now I see him as more of a Nixon.

        • I know of at least one Russell Group university which archives email into local PST files. I suppose I should expect more from a government department, but then I remembered it was a government department ;)
        • Re:whistling (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ScentCone (795499) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @10:27AM (#47271929)

          All of her emails were really stored in a local PST file, with no backup what-so-ever? And after that hard drive failed, with no backup, you then destroyed the drive?

          It's worse than that. The investigators also want to see the correspondence involving six other people whose activity could shed light on the matter. And what a surprise, those six other people also had storage failures, and their records have also been lost. Shocking, huh.

  • by TaoPhoenix (980487)

    See this is where the news gets varying degrees of surreal.

    In 2014, you "recycled" a hard drive with important emails on it?! Really?!

    So then we're faced with that famous Dr. Who trick of whether the Media is accurately reporting an astoundingly senseless event, or if the Media got it wrong.

    Oh look, this time it's the IRS. What's with agencies magically losing data when it suits them? Snark aside and all that, why is it that only HIPAA medical records get taken remotely seriously at least with lip service?

    • by SpzToid (869795) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @09:15AM (#47271093)

      Conspiracy theory, much? Really? This is the U.S. Federal Government we're discussing and the taxpayer is kind of a legacy concern of theirs. No one was considering preserving anything on that particular hard disk, and presumably another part of the government I.T. dept. was responsible for backing up the emails, (and another part of the government was responsible for a verifiable audit trail, ...and at some point the hard disk did what hard disks due in such circumstances), while yet another department merely wanted to re-use the %$#!@! hard disk.

      Because of the gravity of the situation, someone did track all that down and there you have it. ...p.s. This is Slashdot and it is full of admins just doing their job to pay their rent. I'm not saying the situation is Kosher, but just so long as we can all agree on what is exactly Kosher well then, fine; otherwise everything is anyone's guess.

      P.S. Whatever happened to G.W. Bush's Exchange server backups and recovery? That was a priority with a budget if I recall correctly. []

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dywolf (2673597)

        Fox is acting like its big news, but really, anyone whos had to deal with government computer networks shouldnt be surprised by any of this.

        Government computers die all the time. Cause they suck. Old peices of trash. Horrible software bloat too, things required to run in background for security. And government IT's solution nearly always the same: Wipe it and reimage it, or "here, have a new(ish) computer. the emails arent even stored on the personal issued computer anyway, they're on the server. And those

        • by dywolf (2673597)

          I'll pull that back slightly:
          All in all: the only real scandal is how poorly managed and enforced government IT is.

      • by Capt James McCarthy (860294) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @09:34AM (#47271285) Journal

        . Whatever happened to G.W. Bush's Exchange server backups and recovery? That was a priority with a budget if I recall correctly. []

        It truly baffles me to no end when people use the wrongs of the past to somehow justify the wrongs of today.

        So I guess we just say F' it and let our elected officials get away with whatever they want. Justice was overrated anyways.

        • by SpzToid (869795)

          While my Presidential document archival reference might baffle you, I did clarify that particular disk/document recovery referenced in TFA was actually *funded* and prioritized soon enough, at least in theory. Not all government hard disks are treated with such respect for their former contents, and in fact most are discriminated against as they get their contents securely wiped.

        • by jeffmeden (135043) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @10:23AM (#47271885) Homepage Journal

          It truly baffles me to no end when people use the wrongs of the past to somehow justify the wrongs of today.

          So I guess we just say F' it and let our elected officials get away with whatever they want. Justice was overrated anyways.

          No need to be baffled. You are seeing his statement backward. He is not saying this case is excusable because it happened before, he is asking why this case is being treated with such fervor while the previous one wasn't. After all, this thread is metanews about the reaction to the scandal, not any reflection on the actual happenings at the IRS/Treasury.

      • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Thursday June 19, 2014 @10:14AM (#47271723)

        Conspiracy theory, much? Really?

        When it's the user's hard drive and the contents of the mail server and the backups of the hard drive and the backups of the mail server and the user seems reluctant to tell the truth about what the emails actually say and there are allegations of misconduct involving said emails and (as far as we know) the IRS isn't also missing a whole bunch of non-related emails, only "coincidentally" the potentially-damaging ones... then maybe it really is a fucking conspiracy!

    • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @09:17AM (#47271113)

      Unfortunately there are no details of this recycled drive on Fox News, that's not surprising that they spin it like the IRS suddenly destroyed a HD. Politico [] has much more detail.

      As part of the investigation, the GOP has asked for all media that Lerner may had used like old hard drives, thumb drives, etc. This is fairly normal. The hard drive in question was in Lerner's computer until summer 2011. It had crashed and IT staff replaced it. The GOP wanted the hard drive so that tech experts could try to recover the data. But IT has long recycled that drive as it was no longer functioning. Personally I don't know of many IT staff that keep broken hard drives for 3 years.

      • "Personally I don't know of many IT staff that keep broken hard drives for 3 years." - Or make the attempt to recover the only copies of governmental correspondence contained within? Nixon's secretary accidentally erased 18 minutes too, you know.
        • And how do you know that they didn't? Most times when a HD crashes, IT tries to recover the data; however, they aren't experts at this. If a basic attempt does not work, they give up on it. They could send it out to an outside company that does it for a ton of money. But like all things, maybe there wasn't anything on the drive that was so important as to spend the money. You are reading the lack of evidence as evidence of a conspiracy.
      • by squiggleslash (241428) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @09:25AM (#47271197) Homepage Journal
        Stop spouting facts, they have no place in this lynching! Next you'll be pointing out that the IRS targeted OWS groups too...
      • by msauve (701917)
        "Personally I don't know of many IT staff that keep broken hard drives for 3 years."

        How many do you know who are required by law to preserve the records stored on those hard drives?
    • No, the sensible version of this would be that the drive failed, so they recycled it. That's completely reasonable. Happens all the time. The UNreasonable and unbelievable part is that those emails existed ONLY on that hard drive. If that really happened, there should be lots of documentation including who got fired for it.

      Good point, though, in anything I've been involved in that got reported in the news (nothing work related, I'm thinking of a climbing accident that happened while I was in the park) t

      • by ScentCone (795499)

        The UNreasonable and unbelievable part is that those emails existed ONLY on that hard drive.

        Sure, that's unreasonable. But the actually unbelievable part is that investigators had six more people whose email they wanted to collect, and - shockingly! - there was also a failure of storage for those same people, and those records were also beyond reaching.

        Unbelievable, but sure as hell convenient for the administration. Unbelievable, and completely predictable for "the most transparent administration in history."

  • Lost... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JBMcB (73720) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @09:02AM (#47270991)

    We lost the backups. Her computer drive was taken apart and recycled into a crib mobile for underprivileged infants. We had printouts but those were shredded into organic compost. The tape backups were overwritten as we only have one backup set of tapes. The people who sent her the email also deleted them from their "sent" boxes as they only have 5MB of quota for that mail box. The people who received her email deleted them from their inboxes as we rigorously practice inbox zero.

    So you see, no monkey business here.

  • by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @09:06AM (#47271029)

    your health records when they can't even keep your tax data??

    Why the hell aren't these people slapped with an obstruction of justice fine??

  • by slaker (53818) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @09:23AM (#47271171)

    An acquaintance of mine is a senior guy in Chicago's IRS office. He does large corporate audits, which means he's sitting across from guys in $2000 suits all day. The laptop he was carrying until late 2012 had a Windows 2000 license sticker on it and his "new" government-issued laptop is an HP that was manufactured in 2004. These guys really do make more with less and I have no trouble believing that the equipment Lerner was using was painfully obsolete and used until it died.

    • by _Sharp'r_ (649297)

      A long time ago, when managing some government service contracts, I had someone from the BLM walk in and essentially say, "It's the end of the fiscal year and we need to spend some money left in our budget, what's the most expensive PCs and multiple monitor setups you can find to sell us to replace all our current machines with?"

      I doubt Lois Lerner, a Director managing a group with 900 employees, was making due with old obsolete hardware like the guys in the trenches do. She managed a $90M+ budget, so I'm s

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19, 2014 @10:13AM (#47271711)

    I work for local government (why I'm posting as an AC) in a state with strong Sunshine Laws. ALL of our incoming and outgoing emails are archived as they are part of the public record! Even if I deleted all of my emails, they can still be searched and produced if requested. Why isn't this the case at the Federal level????

  • by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @10:30AM (#47271975)

    ...It gets worse. They are now claiming "my dog ate my homework" for precisely, and only, every employee named in this investigation. It would be fitting to apply the IRS' own special rule here, which is that if you can't prove your innocence, you're guilty. Long sentences for each of the accused, unless those hard drives can be made to miraculously reappear.

  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @03:29PM (#47275269) Homepage

    From 2001-2011, I worked for a series of contractors under NASA.

    Most users who I supported were administrators and managers of various stripes, and a few users who were skilled with desktop publishing, web development, imagery, video, or 3d modeling/CAD. Most of them didn't understand how computers worked, and didn't care how they worked. They were just magic boxes that they used to do work with.

    The idea of deleting email was frightening to most users. Email was a record that proved that you did work, and could be used for Cover Your Ass in the event of an inquiry. It could also prove a conversation happened, that an agreement was made, and so settle many disputes arising out of miscommunication. Most people whom I worked with hardly ever deleted messages, and because their local hard drive had plenty of capacity, they didn't have a real need to.

    Until 2007, we used POP3 clients running on the local machine to download mail from a server. Messages were deleted from the server once downloaded, so only existed on the client machine at that point. Some users had decades of email stored in their client on their local hard drive, which typically was not backed up. I'm sure the servers had some redundancy and short backup, but to my knowledge we did not have a system that archived email. The closest thing resembling an archive was the aggregate collection of all mailboxes on the the client machines' hard drives.

    Occasionally we did have users lose data due to a failed hard drive. Users who got bit by data loss tended to learn from this and implement safeguard such as backup to server, or to removable media. But incredibly, these lessons, once learned, were not applied at more than the individual level. People might talk to each other and departments might share knowledge for how to back up data, but it was never something that was codified in policy. People were on their own to implement their own backup and to make sure it worked. It was something that if anything, was encouraged, but not required or enforced. But very often it was not thought about until after the fact of a data loss incident.

    In 2007, we moved to Outlook/Exchange for email. Many long time users were very put off by the change, and did not want to give up their Eudora, and could not deal with the fact that we were not going to migrate their old email into Exchange. Enough resistance was put up that IT ended up continuing to support the client side of the old email system indefinitely, so that users could still access their local archive of old email, and possibly also use automation features in their old client to continue to run processes that generated automated mail messages.

    Exchange uses MAPI, so in the new system our messages were now always left on the server, until deleted. We had 1GB server quotas (around this time I believe Gmail was giving the world ~6GB for free). In theory, the 1GB server quota gave us security from data loss because the Exchange server's storage was backed up. In fact, the low quota size forced much more mail deletion than had ever happened in the old POP3 days of decentralized, distributed ad-hoc archive. But this was by design rather than by defect. And it was a lot easier to restore any retained data if it was lost.

    All the same, users did not want to delete email, ever. Once they hit their quota on the server, they'd submit requests asking for an increase to their quota, which only would be granted if the volume of incoming mail that they had to deal with made a larger quota necessary in order to allow them to have a reasonable backlog of mail going back 6 months to a year, or they had a senior enough position that they could get whatever they demanded. Even then, when people hit their new quota, they still didn't want to delete old messages. The IT team supporting the new email refused to support this in any way, but didn't prevent users from creating local .pst files which they could use to store mail, once again on the local hard drive. Once again, this data was typically not in any way backed up. By this point, we had roaming profiles managed by active directory, so had we been able to use the user's My Documents folder to store the .pst, it would have been backed up over the network. But the roaming profile directories also had a minuscule disk quota of 1GB. Users still had access to C:\ so most of them used that as their .pst archive location, and enjoyed effectively unlimited archive space on their local hard drive, that was not backed up.

    Users understood and accepted the risk, until they had a loss incident, at which point they no longer accepted or understood the consequences of their decisions. Then it became our (IT's) problem, and we had to do whatever ridiculous magic thing we could figure out, usually with no budget, but expending huge amounts of hours trying various things that we knew were unlikely to work, but would be compelled by management to try anyway, for "good customer service", to try to rescue the data.

    I have no idea whether the IRS deliberately destroyed evidence, but it's entirely plausible to me that they simply lost the data due to a lack of competence and insufficient disaster recovery.

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