Office of Special Counsel chief needs a lawyer

posted at 7:45 am on May 7, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

FBI agents conducted an “unprecedented” raid on the Office of Special Counsel and its head, Scott Bloch, yesterday afternoon. Investigators assured OSC employees that Bloch was the target of the raid as they carried out boxes of documents and shut down the computer network in the office while they reviewed computer hard drives. Bloch may have obstructed justice by having his system wiped by outside contractors:

Nearly two dozen federal agents yesterday raided the Washington headquarters of the agency that protects government whistle-blowers, as part of an intensifying criminal investigation of its leader, who is fighting allegations of improper political bias and obstruction of justice.

Agents fanned out yesterday morning in the agency’s building on M Street, where they sequestered Office of Special Counsel chief Scott J. Bloch for questioning, served grand-jury subpoenas on 17 employees and shut down access to computer networks in a search lasting more than five hours.

Bloch, who was nominated to his post by President Bush in 2003, is the principal official responsible for protecting federal employees from reprisals for complaints about waste and fraud. He also polices violations of Hatch Act prohibitions on political activities in federal offices.

Bloch has long been a target of criticism, some of it by his agency’s career officials, but the FBI‘s abrupt seizure of computers and records marked a substantial escalation of the executive branch’s probe of his conduct. Retired FBI agents and former prosecutors called the raid an unusual, if not unprecedented, intrusion on the work of a federal agency.

Agents from the Office of Personnel Management‘s inspector general’s office, who have been investigating Bloch for more than two years, visited his home on Stockade Drive in Alexandria yesterday. They left carrying boxes of files.

Bloch has survived other investigations, but none got as aggressive as this. The subpoena required data involving two earlier OSC investigations into Lurita Doan and Condoleezza Rice for improper travel for political purposes, which have to have costs covered by political campaigns. Both investigations have been closed by the OSC, and the FBI’s interest suggests that Bloch may have closed them improperly.

If so, the Bush administration has not acted with gratitude over it. The White House has demanded Bloch’s resignation on two separate occasions, according to Bloch himself. However, despite his status as a presidential appointee, Bloch cannot be fired except for cause; the OSC has job protections to keep personnel from undue political pressure. The hostility between the White House and Bloch doesn’t appear to indicate that the issue is that Bloch was too tough on Rice and Doan.

Bloch has received plenty of criticism for not pursuing other investigations and apparently for his treatment of his staff. The OSC would normally have been the place for federal whistleblowers to turn for protection, but what happens when the whistleblowes work for the OSC? At least according to the Washington Post, Bloch liked to waste money on items like $400 handtowels for his office bathroom, exactly the kind of waste that the OSC is supposed to uncover.

Most damning, though, was his move to wipe computer hard drives for himself and two aides by hiring Geeks on Call. Bloch says he was combating a virus infection and wanted to build better firewalls, but to the FBI, that looks like obstruction of justice. And if a virus had made its way into the network, why were those three hard drives the only ones affected?

Bloch may wind up getting fired after all, and now that may not be the worst of his troubles.

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I don’t know much about this guy, other then he is a moron. Calling Geeks on Call to erase his hard drives makes him look guilty even if he was telling the truth.

There are freely available tools that will do DOD level wipes on drives. If the Techs used one of these, the FBI forensics people will get nothing.

On the flip side, if they were combatting a virus, (And I have seen isolated systems get hit so bad they had to be formatted), the first thing the techs would have/should have done was make a backup of the drives to secure any data on them.

This would have made it look less like obstruction and more like they were trying to clean up a virus. Of course, those files would then be available to the FBI for review.

Catch-22 :)

evilned on May 7, 2008 at 8:07 AM

I gotta second that. If you’re a technician told to clean up a virus/malware infection, and things are bad enough to require a reformat (something I have way too much experience with), the very first thing you do is a system backup. Unless – unless the client specifically tells you not to do a backup.

On the upside, Bloch is clearly a computer illiterate, and had no idea how to perform basic maintenance on his own, or this may not have been uncovered. Hiring an outside tech to wipe the drive without backups is suspicious because you have to request it: wiping it yourself as part of a normal repair process can be chalked up to simple experience. In the latter case questions would be raised about backups, but there’d be no evidence of deliberate obstruction.

E1701 on May 7, 2008 at 8:51 AM

Most, if not all, disk wipers only go to 8 levels of wiping. NSA prevents commercial merchandise from exceeding their ability to read wiped drives (10x). If the Government wants the information on your hard drive, they’ll get it through the time honored principle of residual magnetic resonance.

He’s not out of the woods by a long shot.

SeniorD on May 7, 2008 at 9:19 AM

$400 hand towels? Are they made of gold? Did he buy them from his wife’s interior decorating company?What kind of person thinks this is OK and what kind of person gives him a job where he can do this? And my sense is that he has never done any good for any whistleblowers.

snaggletoothie on May 7, 2008 at 9:25 AM

SeniorD on May 7, 2008 at 9:19 AM

There’s no way to limit the number of overwriting passes. If the “wipe” program only does three passes, just run it ten times to get thirty. The reason it takes multiple passes is that the write head doesn’t track the exact same line every time. The idea is, if you overwrite enough times, the head will hit the right place often enough.

RBMN on May 7, 2008 at 10:21 AM

At least according to the Washington Post, Bloch liked to waste money on items like $400 handtowels for his office bathroom

If the Washington Post is against Bloch, then chances are that Bloch is the good guy in all of this. I’ve never seen any kind of towel that cost more than twenty bucks, where exactly are these four hundred dollar towels for sale?

Maxx on May 7, 2008 at 10:24 AM

At my house, the help uses the $400 towels for washing cars. Nothing less than an $800 towel is going to touch the hands of my family.

Buford Gooch on May 7, 2008 at 10:37 AM

Stop looking at the obvious gang. There’s more to this than meets the casual eye.

ilitigant on May 7, 2008 at 11:36 AM

chances are that Bloch is the good guy in all of this.

I sure wouldn’t rule it out. With this administration, you can’t tell who (if anyone) is running what .

Feedie on May 7, 2008 at 12:37 PM

Our tax dollars being used for $400 hand towels. I guess Mr. Bloch has never heard of Wal-Mart.

SoulGlo on May 7, 2008 at 7:13 PM