Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MEMOGATE....I've been waiting for the final report about those Republican staffers who pilfered a bunch of Democratic memos from the Senate Judiciary Committee server, but even though the report was released to the committee today Orrin Hatch hasn't decided exactly how much to make public yet. In the meantime, here's the Washington Post summary:

[Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William] Pickle and his investigators said forensics analyses indicated that 4,670 files had been downloaded between November 2001 and spring 2003 by [two GOP aides]....

The report identified the two former staffers as Jason Lundell, a nominations clerk who originally accessed the files, and Manuel Miranda, a more senior staff member....

In addition to faulting the two aides, Pickle's report noted the "systemic flaws" in the Senate Judiciary Committee's computer security practices and recommended steps to improve them. But the report said the flaws did not contribute to the downloading and dissemination of the Democratic files by the two GOP aides.

....According to Pickle's report, Lundell learned how to access the files by watching a systems administrator work on his computer. Miranda guided Lundell in his accessing endeavors, the report said. In addition, the probe found "a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence implicating him," the report said.

Is that a tease, or what?

  • There were systemic security flaws.

  • But those flaws had nothing to do with the pilfering.

  • Rather, Lundell figured out how to access the files by "watching a systems administrator."

The party line from conservative apologists so far has been that the stupid Democrats left their files wide open, so there was nothing wrong with Republican staffers taking a peek. It was just like leaving some papers on a table somewhere.

But apparently not. If the Post summary is correct, boneheaded security flaws weren't at fault after all, and whatever method Lundell used couldn't have been all that obvious if he had to watch a computer tech in order to figure it out. You don't need a tech to show you the way if it's just a matter of double clicking on My Computer.

Still, for a semi-geek like me this explanation is profoundly inadequate. What method did Lundell use? What security flaws if any were to blame? Were the Democrats warned of this flaw before Lundell and Miranda backed up the tractor and started hauling away boxes of documents?

Hopefully we'll learn more details tomorrow.

UPDATE: Regardless of how he got the files, Miranda is unrepentant:

Miranda, in an interview, dismissed what he called the 69-year-old Hatch's "antique and anachronistic" belief that "gentlemen don't read gentlemen's mail."

...."The problem," Miranda said, "is with senators who do not understand that there is nothing unethical with accessing anything on your computer."

Aren't those movement conservatives charming? "There is nothing unethical with accessing anything on your computer." Why not just hire Kevin Mitnick and be done with it?

Kevin Drum 9:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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