The U.S. Secret Service is reportedly considering disabling text messages on agents’ phones because it continues to cope with the fallout of the purging of phone records from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot.
Secret Service Director James Murray on Tuesday informed employees of the plan in a memo on Tuesday, sources told CNN. The agency first will look into how disabling texts could interfere with agents’ work and communication with outside law enforcement. If implemented, the change can be in place until the Secret Service figures out a system to preserve records.
The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, which oversees the Secret Service, has been criticized for failing to alert Congress over missing phone records linked to Jan. 6. The watchdog learned in February that texts, including those exchanged with agents assigned to former President Donald Trump in the course of the riot, were missing, but didn’t notify lawmakers until recently.
House lawmakers had requested DHS maintain records related to Jan. 6 investigations twice in January 2021. Yet, the Secret Service said it undertook a preplanned data migration that wiped agents’ phones.
The Jan. 6 committee has since subpoenaed the Secret Service records.
Last month, Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) who co-chair the Jan. 6 panel, said they were concerned over the missing data.
“The procedure for preserving content prior to this purge appears to have been contrary to federal records retention requirements and will represent a possible violation of the Federal Records Act The Select Committee is looking for additional Secret Service records as well,” they said. “Every effort should be made to retrieve the lost data as well.”
Last week, Politico reported the Secret Service was specifically taking a look at disabling iMessages, texts that may only be exchanged with other Apple users over WiFi or cellular data, because iMessages are encrypted and can’t be centrally stored.
“This is definitely something we’re taking a look at very closely,” Secret Service spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi told Politico. “Director James Murray has ordered a benchmarking study to further examine the feasibility of disabling iMessage and whether it could have any operational impacts.”
Regular text messages, though, may be amongst those missing, Politico said.
DHS just isn’t the one government department coping with missing records related to Jan. 6. The Department of Defense also reportedly wiped the phones of top officials at the top of the Trump administration, deleting texts that would potentially provide insight into the riot, in response to court filings unveiled this week.