The mystery of the missing text messages from January 6th hasn’t unraveled just yet. Since several federal agencies admitted that they hadn’t retained any text messages from key figures surrounding the attack on the Capitol complex, officials have taken steps to prevent it from happening again.
The Defense Department was among those who failed to retain phone data. A year after an independent watchdog group requested text messages from the agency, department officials admitted in a joint status report that they’d erased the texts as part of protocol for outgoing employees.
“For those custodians no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and therefore could not be searched,” the report stated.
Officials have since taken steps to address the matter. On Tuesday, the Defense Department’s Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a letter explaining the steps he’s advising the department take in order to prevent data from being lost in the future.
He said that his office conducted an audit of the agency’s messaging apps and what he found left him with “concerns.”
“This advisory will notify DoD officials responsible for approving the use of mobile applications of concerns we identified during our ongoing audit of Defense Digital Service (DDS) support of DoD programs and operations,” the inspector general wrote.
After the news broke in early August, two departments embroiled in the scandal announced new policies regarding how to retain phone data.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks issued a memo in August stating, “under existing DoD instructions, DoD users are required to retain text messages that qualify as federal records.” And she’s right: A TPM investigation back in August found that text messages from agency officials do count as federal records under the Presidential and Federal Records Act of 2014.
The Department of Homeland Security also announced in August that it would stop wiping top agency officials’ and political appointees’ cell phones without backing them up, and that they would conduct a 30-day review of its data retention policies.
In a memo to staff, the DHS’s Chief Information Officer Eric Hysen and General Counsel Jonathan Meyer wrote: “DHS Agencies and offices are directed to preserve either the actual mobile devices (and accompanying access information) or complete fully accessible backups of all device content for all members of the Senior Executive Service or equivalent and political appointees, whenever such an employee departs or would have their device replaced or wiped for any reason.
The DoD’s inspector general intends to conduct an audit on how (or whether) the agency tried to preserve the records, as well as whether their actions complied with the aforementioned Federal Records Act. “As part of the audit, we will consider reviewing the DoD’s processes to preserve text messages on DoD-issued cell phones when DoD personnel leave their position, including processes in place currently and as of January 6, 2021,” he wrote in Tuesday’s letter.