January 17, 2008
C.I.A. Case E-Mail May Be Lost
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House has acknowledged recycling its backup computer tapes of e-mail before October 2003, raising the possibility that many electronic messages, including those pertaining to the C.I.A. leak case, have been taped over and are gone forever.
The disclosure came minutes before midnight Tuesday under a court-ordered deadline that forced the White House to reveal information it had previously refused to provide.
Among the e-mail messages that could be lost are those exchanged by any White House officials involved in discussions about leaking to news organizations the identity of Valerie Wilson, a C.I.A. officer.
Before October 2003, the White House recycled its backup tapes "consistent with industry best practices," according to a sworn statement by Theresa Payton, chief information officer for the White House Office of Administration.
Backup tapes are the last line of defense for saving electronic records.
The statement also said the White House "does not know if any e-mails were not properly preserved in the archiving process."
If the e-mail messages were not saved, the White House might have violated two laws requiring preservation of federal records or presidential records.
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said, "There is no basis to say that the White House has destroyed any evidence or engaged in any misconduct."
Mr. Fratto said that despite the recycling, some tapes should contain e-mail messages from before October 2003.
The recycling of backup tapes by the Bush White House represents a reversal in policy from the final year of the Clinton administration. The Clinton White House halted recycling of backup tapes in March 2000, when it was discovered that some e-mail from the office of Vice President Al Gore had not been preserved.