Oops - Glitch in White House Computer System Loses 100,000 White House Email - Threats Issued

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March 10, 2000 White House issued threats By Jerry Seper THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Five Northrop Grumman employees were so intimidated by White House threats of jail that one was nearly fired when she refused to tell her own bosses about the administration's failure to turn over thousands of e-mail messages under subpoena.

Newly obtained information shows the White House threatened to have the five employees jailed after they found - and reported - a glitch in the White House computer system that prevented the discovery of more than 100,000 White House messages involving campaign finance abuses, Monica Lewinsky, "Chinagate" and "Filegate."

The threat came from Laura Crabtree, White House customer-support branch chief, during a June 15, 1998, meeting in her office after the discovery by Northrop Grumman of the computer glitch, according to lawyers and others familiar with the growing scandal. She told the employees the matter was "extremely sensitive," warned them not to tell anyone about it without explicit authorization and said the consequences would be a "jail cell."

One of the Northrop Grumman employees, all of whom worked on a technical-support contract for the Executive Office of the President, was given 30 minutes to change her mind or be fired for insubordination when she refused - as ordered by the White House - to tell her immediate supervisors about the e-mail problem.

That employee ultimately told the company's program manager she would "rather be insubordinate than go to jail."

During the June 1998 White House meeting, Mrs. Crabtree asked each of the five employees individually if they understood there were consequences if they spoke out about the e-mail problem, according to the sources.

The e-mail messages had been sought under subpoena by a federal grand jury, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Committee on Government Reform as part of several ongoing investigations.

The employees confirmed in interviews Tuesday by government reform panel lawyers a series of accusations made last month by Sheryl L. Hall, chief of White House computer operations. She told The Washington Times that administration officials covered up the fact that e-mail from August 1996 to November 1998 had not been surrendered as required by law.

Mrs. Hall said at least 4,000 of the messages related to Miss Lewinsky, the former White House intern with whom President Clinton admitted having a sexual relationship, while hundreds of others included references to the White House's receipt of secret FBI files; information on the selection of corporate executives for overseas trade trips; and e-mail concerning campaign finance activities in the 1996 election.

The glitch was first discovered in May 1998 when Northrop Grumman employees traced a programming error on one of four White House servers back to August 1996. The error involved e-mail to and from 464 White House computer users. The problem was not fixed until November 1998.

Mrs. Hall, who now works at the Treasury Department, said the missing e-mail messages were discovered when Northrop Grumman found that one of the four White House Lotus Notes e-mail servers handling the mail for 500 computer users was mislabeled and a White House search of e-mail messages under subpoena was incomplete.

She said e-mail from that server was not properly managed over a two-year period - meaning not collected by the mainframe computer during the subpoena-record search.

The automated-records management system at the White House was designed to scan e-mail "in-boxes" of every user once every several minutes and transfer copies of incoming e-mail messages to a mainframe computer, where they were stored and searched for production in response to subpoenas, Freedom of Information requests and other purposes.

The Northrop Grumman employees discovered that because one of the e-mail servers was named "Mail2" instead of "MAIL2" and because some components of the system were case-sensitive, the incoming messages to the users of "Mail2" were not collected between September 1996 and November 1998.

The effort to fix the problem initially was dubbed "Project X," but later changed to the "Mail2 Reconstruction Project."

The Northrop Grumman employees brought the mistake to the attention of Mrs. Crabtree and Mark Lindsay, head of the Office of Management and Administration. Mr. Lindsay, who participated in the June 1998 meeting in Mrs. Crabtree's office by speakerphone, and Mrs. Crabtree, who now works at the Labor Department, have been unavailable for comment.

White House spokesman James Kennedy has said the administration made "a good faith effort to respond in a timely fashion to all requests for information sought under subpoena."

Northrop Grumman officials have referred inquiries in the matter to the White House. The firm is a leading supplier of defense electronics, system integration and information technology. The White House contract was handled by its subsidiary, Logicon Inc., which specializes in information technologies, systems and services.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Government Reform asked White House Counsel Beth Nolan for a meeting to discuss the matter. The committee issued subpoenas Thursday for a number of related documents and reports.

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and panel chairman, told Miss Nolan in a letter this week it appeared the White House had " made a conscious decision to do nothing to solve the problem posed by so many documents being improperly managed."

He also asked Attorney General Janet Reno why no effort had been made to investigate the e-mail accusations.

Link pending....

-- Jen Bunker (jen@bunkergroup.com), March 10, 2000

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