20 March 2007

Disdain in the 3/19 Document Dump

This pile of text isn't as immediately rewarding as the last one. There are no evident new scandals, no official business to be seen over outside email servers (although there are a couple of redacted email addresses). And a lot of this is a typical document dump -- duplicated text, copies of material already available elsewhere (Congressional testimony, press releases, and even law journals), and of course redactions upon redactions. But that doesn't mean there isn't anything worth taking note of.

I refer to a lot of the pages by the document page ID number, located in the bottom-right hand corner of each page.

First, the urgency with which the USAs were forced out is striking. Margaret Chiara, in an email conversation summarized at DAG000000689-690, requests the ability to step down 7 days later so that she can fulfill her obligations as NAIS chair. Mike Elston's initial response is not to allow the change, but rather to suggest cancelling the meeting, despite that risking "a setback to government-to-government relations" with the Eastern Band of Cherokees. Why was getting these people out of office this urgent?

Despite the speed, there was obviously an expectation that the USAs would take this quietly. Paul Charlton's request to speak with Gonzales was described by Elston on DAG000000504 as "in the 'you won't believe this category'". Needless to say, the request was, in the entirety of Kyle Sampson's reply, "Denied."

In fact, although there is a lot of talk about making the departures smooth transitions, nothing was prepared for the outgoing USAs. See DAG000000675, where Chiara writes to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and Mike Elston about her inability to secure new employment. "In addition to applying to numerous public agencies and organizations, I am now working with a 'headhunter'. Who knew this could be so difficult?" Both her letter and the unrelated conversation between Elston and Sampson on DAG000000676-678 make it clear that the USAs were not and have not been told the "why [they] were being asked to resign". When she finally locates a position, it is one that she is "not currently eligible" for. Her request for "interven[tion]" is entertained by Elston on DAG000000696, not out of compassion for a public servant forced from her office, but because "This idea may help us avoid linking this to the others." The extraordinarily heavily redacted DAG000000710 implies that McNulty supported this approach. There are references to almost every one of the USAs expressing concern for their financial and employment future. Contrast this with the host of special arrangement made for Tim Griffin, and detailed in the last packet of DoJ email releases.

The passive disdain for the people run over by this process shouldn't surprise anyone anymore. Still, seeing it in writing, from the hands of key officials themselves -- even as they maintain a congenial, sometimes joking, tone amongst themselves, is nevertheless chilling.

18 March 2007

New Media and GovTech Solutions

As a followup to the mail server explorations below, it bears note that Mike Connell, founder of political web company New Media is the wife of Heather Connell, founder of ostensibly apolitical government web company GovTech Solutions.

But I'm sure they keep all the information separate.

What's in a Server?

From the recent document dumps comes the revelation that White House officials have been shuttling both political and official business to third-party email systems, quite possibly to avoid oversight and archiving regulations under the Presidential Records Act. TPMmuckracer has an excellent intro to this story, focusing on CREW's letter to Waxman on the issue.

But the PRA issues may be just the tip of the iceberg.

The mail servers used for gwb43.com are not used solely for that domain. A list of the domains sharing e-mailroom space is quite interesting. It is important to note from the beginning, however, that sharing mail server space with gwb43.com does not guarantee funny business. The wrcb.com and .net domains, in particular, belong to a Chattanooga, TN area TV station that seems entirely connected to any funny business. It isn't even a Fox affiliate!

But with that disclaimer out of the way, almost all of the sites sharing this mail server are related to the Republican party. Many of them are managed by the RNC -- including gwb43.com itself. But learning that the White House and the RNC don't understand where politics stop and government starts is hardly surprising.

More interesting is the web of organizations revealed by this domain list. What do the websites of the RNC (rnc.org), Republican Governors Association (rga.org), and the Ohio Republican Party (ohiogop.org) have in common with the campaign site for Rick Santorum (ricksantorum.com) and Ken Blackwell (more on him later)? Well, other than sharing a mail server (except for Blackwell's site), they were all designed by New Media Communications, also known as Technomania -- which, it should be noted, is also on the same mail server. New Media's fingers are in everyone's pies. But don't believe me, look at their site. "New Media’s client list reads like a "Who's Who" of Republican politics." Indeed.

New Media's website drops a lot of hints that its not a normal company. Sure, its a "small company in Ohio." But its so much more! "We offer our clients clear technological advantages that they won't find anywhere else. That's why the "power hitters" consistently turn to us for a full range of online services." Those services include "data collection tools ..., online message coordination" and "advanced programming services." Not to mention "traffic usage pattern reporting and analysis" that means they wouldn't have any problem knowing that the White House was shuttling mail over their server even if they weren't told.

Also sharing server space is GovTech Solutions. Their website might look a little like the New Media one; it should, it is designed by the same people. It might be a "woman-owned small business" (always the small business phrasing!), but its in some pretty large places. Like running the online presence for the Ohio Secretary of State (Ken Blackwell, until recently) and the entire US Department of Energy (and "eventually all DOE sites").

But wait, there's more! Two domains are related to freshman senator Bob Corker (R-TN). Bob has had his share of scandals, including the sale of public wetlands and problems with trust funds. He also had some bad press about sending email on company time as mayor of Chattanooga. Those emails involved his ISP startup, owned in part by his chief of staff Mike Compton, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, registered these two domains for him.

So the use of third-party email servers out of the White House has given us insight into a huge network of political communication, online companies with major governmental inroads, key Republican players, and shady characters with extensive Internet backgrounds. It certainly sets a scene for impropriety, but has anything funny really gone on? Yes. IP space owned by the RNC was used by Blackwell in 2006 to host the Ohio election results, instead of, say, a government website.

Who thinks that New Media, the RNC, or other Republican Party analogues get more benefit from White House emails passing through their servers than just bigger numbers in their traffic logs?