Oh No! It's Still Alive !!!!

Richard A Whitenight rum.runner at JUNO.COM
Wed Aug 8 17:18:28 MDT 2001

AUG 08, 2001
Data Permanently Erased From Florida Computers
n independent examination of four computers used by Katherine Harris, the
Florida secretary of state, and her aides during last fall's presidential
recount has found evidence that the machines were used more extensively
than either Ms. Harris or her spokesman had acknowledged.
The examination, paid for by a group of news organizations including The
New York Times, also found that some information had probably been
permanently erased earlier this year after new operating systems were
installed on three of the four computers, experts from Ontrack Data
International Inc., a firm based in Minneapolis, said yesterday.
While finding "bits and pieces" of hundreds of partly deleted files, they
said there was no way to know the full extent of the destruction. But
they also said they had found no evidence that records had been
systematically purged as part of an intentional effort to destroy
election documents.
"If somebody did that, then it was a pretty poor attempt to cover their
tracks," said Mike Rands, manager of operations for DataTrail, a division
of Ontrack Data that specializes in data recovery and forensic computer
Indeed, the company's examination unearthed dozens of election- related
documents that had never been released by Ms. Harris's office. Among
other things, the examination showed that Ms. Harris's lawyers and aides
used the machines to send and retrieve e-mail messages, conduct legal
research via the Internet, prepare Ms. Harris for potential questions
from reporters and even to hunt for snappy quotations for her speeches.
For months, Ms. Harris's lawyers have insisted that the computers had
been used solely to write news releases.
Yesterday's findings contradicted several other statements issued by Ms.
Harris's office about the computers, which were installed in a conference
room just off her Tallahassee office. Her aides christened the conference
room the "war room," and it served as the primary gathering spot where
Ms. Harris and her senior advisers spent several tense weeks formulating
decisions that helped shape the outcome of one of the closest
presidential elections.
In response to requests by The Times to inspect the computers in March,
Ms. Harris's aides initially said that any records related to the
election had been "erased" when the machines were "reformatted" early
this year. Weeks later, they produced about a dozen election documents
from the computers, saying those were all that could be found after an
extensive search by their own computer technicians. Ms. Harris's lawyers
then denied subsequent requests to inspect the hard drives.
Ms. Harris reversed this position last month after The Times published
the results of a six-month investigation into how the state handled
overseas absentee ballots.
In its investigation, The Times found that two veteran Republican
political consultants used the war room computers to write many of Ms.
Harris's pronouncements during last fall's recounts. One of those
statements appeared to liberalize the rules for counting overseas
absentee ballots, a change that many Democrats viewed as a partisan gift
to George W. Bush, who beat Vice President Al Gore by two to one among
Florida's overseas voters.
The Times's investigation found that local canvassing boards counted 680
overseas ballots that failed to comply with state election laws,
overwhelmingly in counties carried by Mr. Bush.
Ms. Harris, who served as a state co-chairwoman of Mr. Bush's campaign,
has denied any effort to undermine Florida's rules on absentee ballots,
saying all of her actions were "fair, consistent and evenhanded."
The records recovered from the war room hard drives by Ontrack Data shed
no new light on the drafting of Ms. Harris's statement about overseas
absentee ballots, but they do reflect the care with which her aides
drafted and redrafted her public statements. And they show that far more
records about the election remained in the hard drives than had been
released by Ms. Harris's office.
Ms. Harris retained a computer expert, William Morgan, to examine the war
room computers. That examination was conducted before Ontrack examined
the hard drives, but Mr. Morgan's findings have not yet been released.
In a statement released last night, Ms. Harris said that the Ontrack
findings proved that no records were destroyed and that "no partisan
political activity transpired in my office during the recount."
Joe Klock, a Tallahassee lawyer whose firm has represented Ms. Harris's
office since last fall, said that if any records were gone for good, it
was probably the fault of human error, not any conspiracy.
"Frankly, how many people know that changing an operating system destroys
records?" Mr. Klock said.
Several of the newly available documents, while not specifically related
to the recounts, underscore Ms. Harris's political loyalties. One
document, dated March 14, 2000, lists talking points for her to use while
campaigning for Mr. Bush. Among them was "Your Quote: George W. Bush has
proven in Texas that he can manage like an executive, govern across party
lines, and lead with inclusiveness."
During the recounts, partisan praise reached Ms. Harris's top advisers in
the war room. On Nov. 21, for example, Mr. Klock used one of the four
computers to check his e- mail messages. Waiting for him was this
compliment from William J. Flannery of Austin, Tex.: "I was gratified to
see that Governor Bush's and Katherine Harris's interests were so well
advanced in the Supreme Court of Florida."
Another person, whose identity could not be determined, accessed e- mail
from the war room using an America Online account. The AOL sign-on ,
"GOPSPINNER," suggested a less than neutral outlook. The subject line for
one message in GOPSPINNER's mailbox on Nov. 17 was "Harris Speech."
Kevin Bluml, a senior computer engineer for Ontrack, said Windows 98 was
installed in one of the four computers on Jan. 8. Windows 95 was
installed in a second war room computer on Jan. 18. That same day, Mr.
Bluml said, Windows 98 was installed in a third computer.
It is not known what operating systems were replaced or why alterations
were made to these computers at that particular time. No changes were
made to the fourth computer.
The possibility that election records might have been destroyed is a
particularly serious matter in Florida, a state with one of the country's
toughest laws on public records. Public records there are defined
broadly, encompassing everything from the briefest of e-mail messages to
telephone message slips. Public officials who deliberately withhold or
destroy such records can be prosecuted and fined.
When a new operating system is installed, Ontrack officials said, the
computer in effect writes over portions of the hard drive, erasing data
in the process. In the months since, as Ms. Harris's employees have
created hundreds of new files on the new operating systems, still more
old records have probably been written over, they said.
"Since they've been used for quite a while, there's a lot of potential
for things to have gone away," Mr. Bluml said.
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