Further down the White House memory hole

Reporters for the 2600, which calls itself “The Hacker Quarterly,” spoke to the technical folks in the White House about the reported use of a “robots.txt” file to insulate all the Iraq-related documents on the White House website from search engines, and therefore from archiving. 2600 reports that the offending file has now been changed. The reporter, without mentioning the retroactive change of a headline from “combat operations in Iraq have ended” to “major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” and professes agnosticism as to whether the original move was the attempt at concealment it seemed to be or a mere technical glitch, but expresses satisfaction that the problem has been resolved.

I’d be inclined, given the evident expertise and at least apparent lack of bias of the 2600 crew and my own pluperfect ignorance, to believe them, but David Finley, who seems at least equally competent and has done his own inquiry, strongly disagrees.

Finley reports:

In this “digital age”, the White House online public documents could be the primary, authoritative record of public information released by the Executive Branch. Those documents should be managed in such a way that their historical integrity is transparently verifiable by the public to whom those documents are addressed.

However, the incredibly dim document management system that has been put in place by this White House involves changing practically every source document on at least a monthly basis, completely unnecessarily, in order to update unrelated information that is displayed on each page along with the original source material.

Whether by incompetence or by design, the White House has thereby made it nearly impossible for those who value truth and integrity to determine the extent to which this administration, that has shown reckless disregard for truth and integrity, has been changing its own written record as it goes along.

If I understand what Finley is saying, all the documents on the White House website are updated with routine housekeeping information every month. As a result, there is no way to tell whether the file has been substantively altered at the same time: no document has a “last revision” date that matches its original posting date.

Follow the link for technical details, examples of documents that have been “disappeared,” and suggestions for follow-up.

Earlier post here

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com