It Was an Accident

March 13th, 2010

Inspired by 2010 Rosemary Award for Worst Open Government Performance Goes to Federal Chief Information Officers’ Council (National Security Archive 3/12/10), National Security Archive announces Rosemary Award (Washington Post 3/12/10), and Federal IT Purchasers Win Worst Open Government Award for Not Saving E-Mails ( 3/13/10).

For those to young to remember,

Back in 1973 (to be exact, late September),

Rose Mary Woods “accidentally” erased part of a key Watergate recording,

In honor of which the National Security Archive of which its own prize is awarding.

This year’s winner is the Federal Chief Information Officers Council (the FCIOC)

For the “failure of the government to save its e-mail electronically.”

Because email is the increasingly dominant form of communication,

Investigators need to review it to find information.

The Archive cites’s 2008 survey result

(Something that any conscientious IT manager would insult)

That the prospect for accountability has grown increasingly dim

Because not a single federal agency has an electronic record-keeping system.

This problem most recently became apparent

During investigation of a Bush Justice Department official errant

Who drafted the notorious “torture memos,”

Though with whose “guidance” nobody now knows.

The official (John Yoo) conveniently deleted email correspondence,

Thus disposing of potentially important evidence.

Investigators tried to find the email records,

But they were unrecoverable (even by IT nerds).

Ms. Woods re-enacted for the cameras how her “accident” took place,

Which convinced everyone that she’d been told to erase

Evidence of something incriminating Nixon had said

And then made up the story of her “accident” instead.

Yoo didn’t do any comparable re-enactments

Showing how he deleted his email contents.

If he had, I’m sure it would have shown

He wanted to keep high level involvement from being known.

Just a few reminders of the things Republicans do

When they’re in power and allowed to.


Here are some scenes from the very funny movie Dick (not the key scene, since I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you) with one theory about what the missing 18.5 minutes contained. We have since learned who Deep Throat was, but unfortunately it still has not been revealed what was in the missing minutes. Whatever it was, given all the really incriminating stuff that was left on the tapes, what Woods erased must have been really bad. For more on Tricky Dick, check out Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s story on how it all went down, All the President’s Men (or just watch the movie).


Arlo Guthrie came up with the tantalizing theory that the erased section was a bootlegged version of his song Alice’s Restaurant (a great countercultural song; maybe Nixon was listening to it in order to find out about the movement), since both were 18.5 minutes long. If that (and the fact that it’s a great song) weren’t enough of a reason to include the song here, it’s also a great discussion of the abuse of authority and the morality of things like war and torture (the movie, with Arlo playing himself, is excellent too). Here’s a video clip of Arlo performing the song at the very same church 40 years later, combined with clips from the movie. The audio’s not great, so I’ve also included this twopart animated video (kudos to animator Andrew Colunga) of the full song with better audio.


Here’s Jon Stewart inteview of John Yoo. Stewart challenged him, but more mildly than I thoght he would. Why did John Yoo even agree to come on? I guess he just really wanted to hawk his new book on executive power (here’s his book on the war on terror).

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show: Exclusive – John Yoo Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
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