Bush Official Allegedly Hired Geek To Wipe Computer

Scott Bloch heads the Office of Special Counsel, which is investigating possible Hatch Act violations by Karl Rove when the ex-deputy White House chief of staff served in the Bush administration. Bloch himself is under investigation for various alleged improprieties by the federal Office of Personnel Management, whose investigators say Bloch "erased all the files on his office personal computer late last year," according to a Wall Street Journal report published Tuesday.

Executive branch officers are required to preserve all official communications, including e-mail, by the Presidential and Federal Records Acts, Watergate-era laws which establish that such communications are the property of the American people and cannot be destroyed.

Bloch could also face charges of obstructing the Office of Personnel Management investigation, said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for private watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

"It sounds like an obstruction of justice to me, since Bloch is already under investigation," said Weismann, a former Justice Department attorney whose organization has been at the forefront of pursuing White House compliance with the Presidential and Federal Records Acts.

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While Bloch claims he didn't erase any documents relevant to any investigations, lawyers "close to the case" told the Journal that, "bypassing his agency's computer technicians, Mr. Bloch phoned 1-800-905-GEEK for Geeks on Call, the mobile PC-help service. It dispatched a technician in one of its signature PT Cruiser wagons. In an interview, the 49-year-old former labor-law litigator from Lawrence, Kan., confirmed that he contacted Geeks on Call but said he was trying to eradicate a virus that had seized control of his computer."

But the Journal claims to have reviewed a receipt for two December 2006 visits to Bloch's office by a Washington, D.C.-area 1-800-905-GEEK franchise that doesn't mention a virus on Bloch's computer. Instead, the receipt shows a total charge of $1,149 paid for by Bloch with an agency credit card and notes that "a seven-level wipe was performed."

The corporate office of computer services franchisor 1-800-905-GEEK, formerly known as Geeks on Call, was contacted for this story but a spokesperson said the company had no comment on the investigation of Bloch. A technician for the Washington, D.C.-are 1-800-905-GEEK franchisee that worked on Bloch's computer told ChannelWeb that he had been instructed not to say anything about the matter.

But Jeff Phelps, the owner of that Washington, D.C. 1-800-905-GEEK franchise, told the Journal: "We don't do a seven-level wipe for a virus."

A seven-level wipe of a computer is the most comprehensive possible method of eradicating any traces of stored information that could later be used to reconstruct the data by investigators, said Rurik Bradbury, VP of strategy at hosted e-mail and IT provider Intermedia.

Bradbury said data-wiping applications like BC Wipe and Blancco-File Shredder were readily available to anyone who wanted to conduct a seven-level wipe of a computer.

"What these things do is literally go through every zero and one on that particular storage format, like a hard disk, and scramble them so there's no trace left of the data," he said.

But Bradbury wasn't sure that Bloch's virus explanation couldn't be reconciled with the "seven-level wipe" reference on the 1-800-905-GEEK receipt.

"I don't know if I buy the idea that this has to be some kind of conspiracy. Companies like this often come in and perform their work, then just put on the most expensive item on the receipt. Maybe they just couldn't get rid of the virus, and so they had to do the seven-level wipe," he said.

Both Bradbury and CREW's Weismann believed that whatever data Bloch had wiped from his own computer, much of it, including any e-mails he sent from the device, should still exist as back-ups on storage servers.

"You'd expect that all the files [on a federal agency computer] are on an intranet, so it's very likely they're living somewhere and can be recovered," Bradbury said.

Weismann said it was very unlikely that 1-800-905-GEEK would face any legal charges, no matter the findings of the investigation into Bloch's activities.

"Geeks on Call is not subject to the Federal Records Act. That's binding to the agency, not an outside contractor," she said.