Pentagon reminds everyone not to wipe their phones

Staff Sgt. David Dezwaan (left), and Airman 1st Class Alex Nona, 60th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technicians, conduct radioactive detection methods during an exercise May 5, 2016, at Clear Lake, California. The EOD technicians participated in Operation: Half-Life, an exercise designed to evaluate a synchronized, multi-agency response to a crisis situation. (Senior Airman Bobby Cummings/Air Force)

In light of revelations that senior Defense Department officials’ phones were scrubbed of communications in the final days of the Trump administration, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official is reminding everyone that the contents of their government phones are to be preserved.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks sent the memo out to senior leaders Wednesday, according to a Thursday release from DoD.

“This memorandum further directs that, effective immediately, all mobile device service providers in DoD will capture and save the data resident on DoD-provisioned mobile devices when devices are turned-in by users,” Hicks wrote.

Officials whose text messages and other data were deleted include former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and former Pentagon chief of staff Kash Patel, CNN first reported. All three were major players in the military’s response to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The revelation about the wiped phones came Wednesday, after watchdog group American Oversight filed a lawsuit in response to a denied Freedom of Information Act request seeking Jan. 6 phone records of top federal government officials.

“The disappearance of this critical information could jeopardize efforts to learn the full truth about Jan. 6,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement calling for an investigation. “I don’t know whether the failure to preserve these critical government texts is the result of bad faith, stunning incompetence, or outdated records management policies, but we must get to the bottom of it.”

A court filing from the federal government asserted that government phones are routinely scrubbed in the course of jobs turning over.

“DoD and Army conveyed to Plaintiff that when an employee separates from DoD or Army he or she turns in the government-issued phone, and the phone is wiped,” the filing reads. “For those custodians no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and therefore could not be searched, although it is possible that particular text messages could have been saved into other records systems such as email.”

In addition to reminding DoD personnel to preserve their communications, Hicks called on the department’s chief information officer and general counsel to report back in 30 days with an assessment of existing DoD policy on communications, as well as recommendations for improvement.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT

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Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.