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The Secret Service’s missing text messages: Lessons for IT security

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The U.S. Secret Service (USSS) has been under intense political fire since mid-July when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General’s office told Congress that the text messages surrounding the important events of January 6 had been permanently deleted for twenty-four key agents. The USSS currently operates under DHS.

The facts of this high-stakes national drama are unclear, and conflicts between lawmakers and DHS and DHS and the Secret Service further muddy the waters. But in essence, the Secret Service claims that it lost the texts in January 2021 after it reset its mobile phones to factory settings as part of a pre-planned, three-month system migration that entailed instructing agents to back up their phones.

The emerging and still-jumbled story of the Secret Service’s lost text messages, although a political firestorm in Washington, is also an object lesson for all security personnel on the challenges in securing mobile communications and the role that document destruction and retention policies play in organizational security.

The Secret Service’s missing texts: A timeline

The following timeline recaps the developments of the missing texts controversy. It underscores the current chronic lack of clarity about what happened, which has been heightened by intra-agency finger-pointing over who is responsible for the lapses that led to the crisis.

January 16, 2021: Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, along with other committee chairs, wrote a letter to DHS and other agencies requesting that they produce documents and materials that relate to the January 6 insurrection.

February 26, 2021: The DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) reportedly requested records of electronic communication from the Secret Service for its own investigation into the January 6 attack.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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