Text messages are federal records and must be saved, DOD orders

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After news that Jan. 6 insurrection-related texts were wiped from former Pentagon officials’ phones, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks ordered data on department devices must be retained. 

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks ordered the Defense Department to save data from mobile devices after reports information was deleted from former top officials’ phones, including text messages from Jan. 6, 2021. 

Hicks in an Aug. 3 memo calls records retention a “solemn responsibility and legal obligation for all federal employees, civilian and military” and states text messages that conduct public business qualify as records. 

Effective immediately, the DOD chief information officer must implement guidance to ensure all mobile services providers capture and save the data on devices when they are returned. The CIO must also work with general counsel to ensure the department complies with the Federal Records Act. 

The change in policy comes after CNN reported the department deleted the phone data from former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, former Chief of Staff Kash Patel, former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and other top officials who would have been communicating about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building. The revelations came from a Freedom of Information Request Act lawsuit for the texts by nonprofit watchdog group American Oversight. 

DOD joins a growing list of agencies with missing texts that could shed light on the Jan. 6 attack. About 24 Secret Service officials appear to have missing texts, as do former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and the acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, according to the Washington Post

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Wednesday requested the DOD inspector general look into the missing texts.

“I don’t know whether the failure to preserve these critical government texts from Jan. 6 is the result of bad faith, stunning incompetence, or outdated records management policies, but we must get to the bottom of it,” Durbin said in a statement.