Did Karl Rove 'delete' four years of e-mails?

Missing e-mails have Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington in a swirl. This is one topic you can track through the world of digital reality; this one you don't need to take on faith. If you don't believe what I write, or what you read elsewhere, check with your handy IT department.

The Republican Party says it's missing four years worth of Karl Rove's e-mails from within the White House. A Democratic senator says that's not possible.

Here's what I've learned from Robert Vamosi, an editor here at CNET who deals with security issues daily: it's very complex to completely destroy an e-mail.

Let's say I send you an e-mail from my work account to your Yahoo account. Automatically, that e-mail exists and is indexed on the server at my work and a Yahoo server. Let's say we are hoping to keep that e-mail secret. I delete it on my end. I persuade you to delete it also. All we've really done is remove the indexing of the e-mail. In nearly all Microsoft-based e-mail systems the actual message persists in multiple locations. It has not been truly trashed but simply delisted. Most U.S. federal agencies use Microsoft software.

So unless the actual physical servers on both ends are physically destroyed or digitally scrubbed by overwriting hundreds of 1s and 0s, that email is still out there. It's just going to be harder to find. But, Vamosi, tells me, there are digital forensic programs that can go in and reconstitute every "deleted" file and e-mail still on a server. One such program is EnCase from Guidance Software. It can even retrieve deleted files that have been overwritten only once.

So let's assume there was a reason for Rove to delete a lot of e-mails. And let's even further suppose he convinced all his e-mail correspondents to delete all their e-mails to and from Rove--that not one Rove correspondent was saving e-mails for a tell-all book, for political clout, revenge or just nostaglia. Now I know we've wandered away from reality.

What is most likely real: those Rove e-mails in all their digital reality are sitting on various servers. The Republican National Committee is making forensic efforts to find the "missing" e-mails. The cybersleuthing is going to go on for a while. And the political pot will bubble.

A final fascinating tidbit, the Republican National Committee now says it deleted Rove's power to delete e-mails. And they say they did that back in 2005 to preserve records for use in legal settings.

 

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