In a perfect example that no organization is immune from data backup fumbles, the CIA had to admit it mistakenly destroyed its only copy of a major Senate report – just as Justice Department lawyers were telling a federal judge the document was being preserved.
How did a 6,700 page report on the agency’s interrogation methods that took years of work by the Senate Intelligence Committee go missing?
Here’s what went down, in what is being described as a series of errors “straight out of the Keystone Cops” by intelligence community sources: CIA inspector general (IG) officials had uploaded the file onto its internal computer system, then destroyed the original computer disk as “the normal course of business.” Meanwhile, someone in the IG office misinterpreted the Justice Department’s instructions not to open the file to mean “delete it from the server.”
The end result: both the original and the copy were scrapped.
This incident was privately disclosed to the committee last summer – but it was never reported to the federal judge who was overseeing a lawsuit seeking access to the document under the Freedom of Information Act (a 500-page executive summary had been released publicly, but not the full three-volume report).
From Yahoo News:
After being informed by CIA general counsel Caroline Krass that the Justice Department wanted all copies of the document preserved, officials in the inspector general’s office undertook a search to find its copy of the report. They discovered, ‘S***, we don’t have one,’ said one of the sources briefed on Sharpley’s account.”
While the tug of war between these offices is ongoing, a CIA spokesman emphasized that another unopened computer disk with the full report does, in fact, remain safely locked in a vault at agency headquarters.
The lesson here is simple, but can’t be repeated enough: make sure your backups have backups!