To begin with, let’s analyze the reported claims of the IRS so we know what needs to be investigated.
The Congressional Ways and Means Committee released this Press Release informing us of this development.
In the Press Release, they lay out the situation thusly:
Due to a supposed computer crash, the IRS claims it cannot produce emails written only to or from Lerner and outside agencies or groups.
Any IT guy will immediately assume that they are talking about a server crash, I’ll go into the details why in a later post. If it were a server crash though, it would not be only Lois Lerner’s email that were unretrievable – it would be everyone who was using that email server.
None of this makes any sense at this point, which brings us to the attached, more detailed, report from the Associated Press.
In this report, the situation is presented like this:
The IRS said it cannot locate many of Lois Lerner’s emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed during the summer of that year. Technicians went to great lengths trying to recover data from Lerner’s computer in 2011. In emails provided by the IRS, technicians said they sent the computer to a forensic lab run by the agency’s criminal investigations unit. But to no avail.
This is saying that her personal computer crashed. More to the point, her hard drive failed and the data was unrecoverable – by a computer forensic lab (note, they only state it was a forensic lab, not a computer specific one, I am assuming that it was a computer forensic lab).
There are two key points here.
- While it is not uncommon for hard drives to fail and it is not an unrealistic claim – there are several factors involved in data recovery.
- The IRS reportedly uses Microsoft Outlook with Exchange Server, but regardless of what they use – email data does NOT originate on the user’s hard drive, it is not a part of the data persistence model.
We’ll look at these two points next.
Before we proceed, let’s enumerate the IRS’s explicit and implicit claims:
- Lois Lerner had the only copy in existence of her email prior to 2011 on the hard drive of her IRS owned computer.
- Lois Lerner’s hard drive crashed and the data on it was unrecoverable
- The Mail Server that Lois Lerner used at the IRS to send and receive emails does not have any backups
- Any backups that should have existed have been destroyed
- Lois Lerner’s official IRS email from 2011 had never been archived into the National Archives and Records System
- Lois Lerner, and not hundreds or thousands of other IRS employees, was the only impacted by this data loss
- A report regarding the Unlawful or Accidental Removal, Defacing, Alteration or Destruction of Records was not previously reported or filed with NARA
- The IRS only very recently became aware of this incident or it recently happened
Now we can begin point by point to evaluate each of these claims.