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dismissed by President Donald Trump. Comey now-famously found out that he’d been fired while visiting FBI colleagues in Los Angeles.
During that time, it’s not at all clear what measures have been taken to secure his files, computers, or other devices that may have been in his Washington, DC office or in his control at the time he was removed from his post. Under the Criminal Justice Information Services policy, Comey’s access would have been immediately terminated.
When Ars asked the FBI what, if anything, had been done to secure Comey’s materials, Susan McKee, a 27-year veteran spokeswoman of the Bureau, e-mailed: “We don’t have any further comment at this time.”
Normally, such a statement might not stand out. But hastily booting an FBI Director who reportedly was investigating alleged foreign ties to the Trump campaign, raises concerns—particularly given that Comey was nowhere near the Bureau at the time. Comey’s firing has drawn the ire of many top legislators and other law enforcement officials from around the country. “I’m starting to smell Watergate,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a Politico event in San Francisco on Wednesday evening. “It has the same feel to it.”
Prior to Comey’s removal, the only other FBI Director to have been replaced was William Sessions, during the presidency of Bill Clinton. But Sessions’ removal was planned for months before it actually happened.
Ars asked Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer based in Washington, DC, what likely would happen to any items that were previously under Comey’s control.
“All paper classified files in Director’s office should be cross-checked against inventory lists to ensure they’re all present and accounted for,” he said. “E-mail accounts and individual hard drives should be archived. In theory, his staff is supposed to immediately do it. In case he was traveling with a classified lock bag, they need to know what’s missing from his office to know what needs to be recovered. In reality? It could take days. [Comey] can be allowed access back into his office but only after it’s been sanitized of classified files.”
Paul Rosenzweig, a former Homeland Security official during the George W. Bush administration, told Ars, who noted that he didn’t know of an obvious set of steps to follow in such a circumstance.
Meanwhile, Francis Quinlan, a Southern California lawyer, Marine reservist (holding the rank of Brigadier General), and 1980s-era FBI special agent, told Ars that he knew what he would do were he in charge of securing Comey’s office, but he would “not speculate on what Bureau executives did or will do.”
“I would be surprised if it was anything less than immediate application of a detailed plan for securing such things,” he continued by e-mail. “The likelihood that you will learn that and anything about the security that was employed on all of the Director’s communications and files is low, for obvious national security reasons.”
Nevertheless, at least one former top-ranking government official seemed quite confident that Comey’s office would be well preserved.
“They are ALL government records and they ALL must be preserved [in accordance with] the Records Preservation Act,” Gen. Michael Hayden, the now-retired former director of both the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, told Ars. “They will be collected, catalogued and stored.”
According to Hayden, Comey would have a tough time getting back in, even to retrieve personal effects.
“He would have to prove it’s personal (e.g., family photos),” he e-mailed. “Everything else is considered government records. When I researched my records for my book, I found things that had been balled up and (I thought) thrown away.”