Since it was initially disclosed that the White House had lost millions of emails that were required by law to be archived, I’ve been wondering whether they were lost due to technical ineptitude or “lost” for political expedience. Ars Technica published an article today looking into that question.

It looks like incompetence may have played a big part. The White House replaced Lotus Notes with Microsoft Exchange, and replaced the old archiving system with the “hey dude, make a backup every now and then” system. On the other hand, the habitual use of external email accounts by some White House staffers looks more suspicious:

As if that weren’t bad enough, there is also evidence that some senior Bush administration officials have taken to using non-government e-mail accounts as a way to skirt the requirements of federal law. For example, the National Journal has reported that while Karl Rove was working in the White House, he used an outside account provided by the Republican party for “about 95 percent” of his correspondence. Indeed, Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform estimate that 88 senior White House officials had e-mail accounts with the Republican party or the Bush re-election campaign, and many officials used them extensively.

On that front, however, I suspect that there may be more to the story. I wonder if it’s the case that it was just easier for White House staffers to get Blackberries through the RNC than through official government channels. I have a friend who’s a politician, and his campaign account pays for his Blackberry. If most of the staffers had RNC-provided Blackberries before they got to the White House, it wouldn’t surprise me if they kept them.

Either way, using the external accounts for official correspondence was illegal and in the end will result in the historical record of the Bush years being less well documented than it should be.