|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
The secret life of e-mail isn't obvious from looking at your mail program. It sensibly simplifies things, presenting a message as a single object you can open, read, and then delete. Once you empty your mail program's trash, no trace of the message remains.
But under normal circumstances, nothing you delete on a computer vanishes immediately. The computer clears its own record of where it put the file, but the file itself won't disappear until enough other data gets written to that same spot. Given the vast size of most new computers' hard drives, that can take years.
The same thing happens with theoretically erased e-mail. Most mail programs don't store each message as its own separate document; instead, they squirrel away all your messages in one database file. When you hit the delete key, your mail program can just update its internal records to mark that message's location as vacant. You could say it conveniently forgets about the e-mail.
You can try specialized software that can overwrite a deleted file to prevent later retrieval -- for example, the Eraser program for Windows and Mac OS X's "Secure Empty Trash" option -- but those products may not work inside an e-mail program's database.
E-mail also leaves a long trail as it hops from computer to computer across the Internet. Most of the copies aren't kept, but at the receiving end, at least two can stick around: one on the mail server that delivers new messages to each user's computer, the other on the user's own machine.
So even if both the sender and recipient strive to make a message disappear, "data forensics" companies can dig it up. Brian Karney, the director of product management for one such firm, Guidance Software of Pasadena, Calif., bragged about how easy it is to unearth a long-buried message from the database file created by Microsoft Outlook -- the software used by many businesses and organizations, including the White House.
"Anybody can recover an e-mail," Karney said. "You just need to know how to look and find that stuff."
There are several next steps that should be pursued in the investigation into the use of RNC e-mail accounts by White House officials. First, the records of federal agencies should be examined to assess whether they may contain some of the White House e-mails that have been destroyed by the RNC. The Committee has already written to 25 federal agencies to inquire about the e-mail records they may have retained from White House officials who used RNC and Bush Cheney ’04 e-mail accounts. Preliminary responses from the agencies indicate that they may have preserved official communications that were destroyed by the RNC.
Second, the Committee should investigate what former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales knew about the use of political e-mail accounts by White House officials. If Susan Ralston’s testimony to the Committee is accurate, there is evidence that Mr. Gonzales or counsels working in his office knew in 2001 that Karl Rove was using his RNC e-mail account to communicate about official business, but took no action to preserve Mr. Rove’s official communications.
Third, the Committee may need to issue compulsory process to obtain the cooperation of the Bush Cheney ’04 campaign. The campaign has informed the Committee that it provided e-mail accounts to 11 White House officials, but the campaign has unjustifiably refused to provide the Committee with basic information about these accounts, such as the identity of the White House officials and the number of e-mails that have been preserved.