WASHINGTON — The White House insisted on hiring an inexperienced
contractor to lead a court-ordered search of missing West Wing e-mail under
subpoena, the White House official managing the project admitted yesterday
in court testimony.
WorldNetDaily first reported, lead contractor ECS Technology Inc. is a small, minority vendor with few government computer jobs under its belt, and little, if any, experience retrieving lost data.
In fact, ECS president Eric Duong told WorldNetDaily in an
April 6 interview that the White House picked his subcontractor — SRA International Inc. — for him during a meeting in the White House.
Two former White House officials involved with the “Project X” e-mail
scandal recently took jobs with SRA. Duong also said he had limited computer forensics experience and looked forward to learning from SRA.
“I’d like to have SRA as my mentor,” Duong said.
White House project manager Terry Misich, who is supervising the contractors, testified he favored hiring Ontrack Data International Inc., which he says is “one of the top ones” in the business for data retrieval. Yet White House higher-ups gave the contract to relative novice ECS.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the evidentiary hearing after growing impatient with the White House for taking so long to produce the missing e-mail. Judicial Watch has subpoenaed the e-mail in its $90 million class-action Filegate lawsuit against the White House and FBI.
After nearly five months, not a single document has been recovered. The hearing continues today with more witnesses, including a cyber-forensics expert from Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Ontrack.
Judicial Watch wants Lamberth to pull the project from the White House and give it to a “special master.”
Also, in a July 12 letter, House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton urged Attorney General Janet Reno to support appointing a “special master.” Justice Department lawyers are defending the White House in the Filegate case.
Lamberth plans to make his ruling after today’s hearing.
Lead Judicial Watch lawyer Larry Klayman argued that ECS’ inexperience is hamstringing the project.
He pointed out that the company doesn’t even have the off-the-shelf technology to do the job. In fact, it’s still surfing the Web for vendors to order the proper hardware and software.
Citing the WorldNetDaily article, Klayman asked Misich: “Are you aware that the president of ECS had limited computer forensics experience?”
“Yes, sir, I am aware of that,” Misich said.
“As manager, you never asked him” if he was capable of doing the job?
“No sir,” said Misich, an Army detailee who was thrust into his current role by White House political appointees.
But Misich explained that they picked ECS primarily because “we could get them on board quickly.” ECS, as a minority vendor, didn’t have to bid for the job. Competitive bidding would have delayed the launch of the project, he says.
Klayman shot back that ECS’ steep learning curve is causing more delays.
Referring to ECS, Klayman told reporters after the hearing: “Obviously, they hired the biggest stooge they could find.”
Misich also testified that Mark Lindsay, White House director of management and administration, is holding daily meetings with the e-mail contractors.
Other contractors allege Lindsay threatened to jail them if they didn’t keep Project X a secret. The independent counsel has started a criminal investigation into charges the White House obstructed justice.
With Lindsay in charge, “the American people will not be given this information. There will be stalls,” testified former White House computer manager Sheryl Hall. “A year from now we still won’t have it.”
Other bombshells dropped in the hearing:
- Misich said a motherboard to a computer used to copy e-mail back-up tapes mysteriously “blew up” after he went on vacation a few weeks ago. That further slowed the project.
- Misich confirmed that the original mega-storage “Zip” disk holding some 1,000 pages of unrecorded e-mail from Monica Lewinsky to White House aides has in fact been corrupted and can’t be opened.
- The White House copied the first of some 3,400 back-up tapes the morning of the hearing. One down, 3,399 to go — with just 117 days left before the election.
Misich says all of the tapes have to be copied twice before they can be reformatted to search for relevant e-mail. He claims his team can copy just one high-density, 8-millimeter tape every 46-50 hours. At that rate, it will take 9-12 months to produce the e-mail, he guesses.
But Hall and Betty Lambuth, former Northrop Grumman computer contractor, testified there’s technology on the market now that could speed the process substantially.
Neither are forensic experts, though. So Judicial Watch plans to call Ontrack project manager Stuart Hanley to the stand today to explain to the judge how it can be done.
WorldNetDaily has learned that Hanley will testify that his company has the customized hardware and software to copy the tapes at a rate of one every five hours.
At one point, Judge Lamberth asked Misich: “When do I get something? When do you start rolling?”
Misich replied that, even with no more mishaps and delays, he can’t provide a raw database — from a batch of just 20-25 tapes — for White House lawyers to search for relevant e-mails for another four to six weeks.
Short of turning over the project to a real pro, Lamberth seemed to lean toward a compromise of copying and searching just the weekly back-up tapes to speed things up. That would mean processing roughly 520 tapes compared with the 3,400 daily back-up tapes.
Judicial Watch is opposed to the idea because it would capture only about 80 percent to 85 percent of the total universe of missing e-mail, which consists of Internet and inter-government messages sent mainly to the West Wing from 1996 to 1998. (All of Vice President Al Gore’s e-mail is missing and is also being restored.) The reason: The Friday night back-ups may have missed any e-mail deleted earlier in the week.