The US Secret Service may temporarily disable text messaging on employee cell phones, two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN, as the agency scrambles to respond to concerns it may have erased messages relevant to investigations into January 6, 2021.
Secret Service Director James Murray sent an agency-wide memo on Tuesday, the details of which are being first reported by CNN, informing employees that it is considering temporarily suspending the use of texts while the agency fixes gaps in how it retains those messages, according to sources who described the memo.
The Secret Service has been under heavy criticism after the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general told Congress last month that the agency had erased text messages from the time period surrounding January 6 that had been requested by Congress.
While the agency has said that it has cooperated with the inspector general – and that messages were lost as a result of a pre-planned phone data migration in January 2021 – the memo is the latest sign that the Secret Service sees a need to change its data practices amid the backlash over the January 6 messages.
One of the sources said the Secret Service leadership made clear it would not stop the use of text messages without first understanding what kind of impact it might have on the performance of Secret Service agents. Agency employees, for instance, text with local police officers, one source said, and the agency wouldn’t want to lose that channel of communication.
There is concern, the source said, that fully disabling the agency’s texting capabilities could harm the Secret Service’s protection capabilities.
Politico first reported the agency was considering suspending the use of texts.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Secret Service declined to comment.
The Secret Service and DHS – as well as the Defense Department – have all faced questions about missing messages around the time of January 6, as Congress, government watchdogs and the National Archives have all demanded answers into how the messages were deleted. The DHS inspector general told the Secret Service last month his office was conducting a criminal investigation into possible erased text messages.
The Secret Service memo says that the agency has a four-point plan to prevent data loss and fulfill obligations to preserve records, according to one source. The memo states that there were regulatory and security reasons why the agency’s text messages weren’t backed up on a server but said that significant efforts are underway to cover the gap between technological capability and record preservation requirements.
The Secret Service’s chief information officer and executive resources board plan to assess the benefits and impacts of suspending the use of text messages temporarily until a technological solution is identified, the memo states.
The effort is also intended to serve as a roadmap for the next Secret Service director, as Murray had planned to retire before saying he would remain in place until a new director is appointed.