The U.S. Secret Service is reportedly considering disabling text messages on agents’ phones as it continues to deal with the fallout of the purging of phone records from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
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 would 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 during the insurrection, were missing, but did not 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 may represent a possible violation of the Federal Records Act The Select Committee is seeking additional Secret Service records as well,” they said. “Every effort must be made to retrieve the lost data as well.”
Last week, Politico reported the Secret Service was specifically looking at disabling iMessages, texts that can only be exchanged with other Apple users over WiFi or cellular data, because iMessages are encrypted and cannot be centrally stored.
“This is actually something we are looking 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 also be among those missing, Politico said.
DHS is not the only government department dealing with missing records related to Jan. 6. The Department of Defense also reportedly wiped the phones of top officials at the end of the Trump administration, deleting texts that could potentially provide insight into the insurrection, according to court filings unveiled this week.