Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

The 'Times' Gets Goldman Sachs Emails: Lies, Sourcing and Lawyers

Nerds will appreciate today the strangest bit of sourcing ever used in the New York Times. The subject is Goldman Sachs employee-scapegoat Fabrice Tourre, whose emails "have been made available," to use the sort of passive construction the paper enjoys, to the Times for some unknown time. They were "provided by" a Nancy Cohen, "who says she found the materials in a laptop she had been given by a friend in 2006." Heh, go on? "The friend told her he had happened upon the laptop discarded in a garbage area in a downtown apartment building. E-mail messages for Mr. Tourre continued streaming into the device…." Obviously, as has been pointed out, this went through the Times legal department mill, to the point where it says far less than it should. But if you assume that this means that the Times has access to Tourre's actual, current work email, you'd have to be wrong.

Non-BlackBerry Goldman Sachs email access is by, essentially, VPN—their system replicates your desktop on your home computer. So if you hit "print" on an email or document… it prints at the office, not in your house. Employees have a fob with a password that changes every two days or so to access the system remotely. It's not exactly like you put your password into or Outlook or whatever and your emails continue "streaming into the device." It's not remotely like that.

But it could be like that if the laptop didn't belong to Tourre. And belonged to a law firm, or an SEC flunky, and all the emails were drafts of letters being kicked around, addressed to Tourre. (Also, the SEC or lawyers would have access to discovery dumps of Tourre's emails. The finger really points to some associate who had to read them all and copied them into a file to take home—although that makes the "streaming in" part a lie.) Note also that no reference is made to any emails sent by him.

Or it could also be like that if the emails in question were going to a private email address of Tourre's. "E-mail messages for Mr. Tourre continued streaming into the device" is a torturously vague construction in the end.

But there's almost no way that this found laptop happily ticked along for years with emails "streaming" in directly on a Goldman Sachs account. This is an organization that has a forensics department that can and does do fingerprinting on documents. You can imagine their digital department is incredibly sophisticated.

What's more interesting about the story is that they use the emails and other documents to make the case that Tourre is and was a scapegoat—and a badly advised one. The only defendant in the SEC investigation against Goldman Sachs, represented by a company lawyer, he got hung out to dry—and then most everyone moved on.

13 Comments / Post A Comment

Guan Yang@twitter (#13,370)

If the fob is a SecurID as indicated in your screenshot from, the code on it changes every two minutes or so, not days.

Are you sure about this? If Goldman email can be accessed on a blackberry then it should also be available to any pop/imap email client installed on any laptop, desktop, iPad, etc. The Times story seams reasonable to me.

sigerson (#179)

@Brad Wright@facebook – Guan is correct. Work emails at banks and law firms are tightly controlled and subject to extra security measures. The SecureID token changes every two minutes. Blackberries have default password protection locks. Laptops and other remote connection terminals are vetted through a signon ID, password that changes every two weeks AND the 6-digit SecureID token that changes every two minutes.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

Honestly e-discovery technology doesn't work like that either – usually stored on a remote server with a login. Also I can't see describing the process of retrieving it, even from something as basic as Summation (ugh bad memories) as "streaming." Usually when you're looking at email from a discovery request, either outgoing or ongoing, you're looking at pdf'd printouts of the email. Not streaming raw data. You might have metadata but again, at would be stored in a database usually.

@MichelleDean : +1 on the PDFed printouts of email. I always figured it was just a tactic used to irritate opposing counsel. "Oh yeah? Well, wait 'til you get your twentieth 300-page printout of an Excel attachment!"

Also, invoking the name "Summation" made my head twinge a little there, too.

Leon (#6,596)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose All of this is why I will never work for anything more than internet startups. The pay may be all over the place, the long-term job security somewhere between shakey and non-existent — but nobody will ever care about compliance of any sort as long as the sausage is at the butcher's counter on time.

Tuna Surprise (#573)

Sounds fishy to me. I have remote access to my work computer and there's no way someone who found my 2006-era laptop would be able to read current emails. You need a code from the key fob which regenerates every 60 seconds. You need a separate password to generate the key fob code. You need yet another password to use in conjunction with the key fob code (which must be changed every quarter). Even if you had all these passwords, the system still logs you out after a few minutes of inactivity or loss of internet connection. Then to get back in you need a new key fob code.

I can also access my email only through a webmail program, but again, you need a password to get access. That password must be changed quarterly and the webmail logs you out after a period of inactivity.

deepomega (#1,720)

Sounds more like a honeypot to me.

Leon (#6,596)

Honestly, if I'm Goldman, I love all of the ink being spilled to this day over prosecutions for people who broke the law during the housing bubble and run-up to the subprime crisis. It makes all the mooks feel like there were criminals out there breaking laws we need to find and punish – ignoring the fact that there are fuckload of loopholes in oversight we should be correcting, ignoring the fact that what we should be REALLY outraged about is how much of this was completely legal.

Also, what we should be embarrassed as fuck about is that we, as a populace, haven't really demanded understanding of the past or safeguards against the future.

MyName (#10,197)

If the laptop still had access to the corporate system years after having been "discovered in the garbage area" I would have been deeply suspicious. There's no way that the password is still the same and as someone mentioned even the password would have been useless without the keycode fob. Blackberries are different in that some of them can be set up to run an app that generates the same numbers as the fob, but they also have a password you have to type to get into.

The only scenario where this might work is if the work emails were automatically forwarded to a less secure personal account that the laptop did have access to, which is the kind of nightmare scenario that makes system administrators wonder if it's worth even getting up in the morning.

katiebakes (#32)

Yeah, there's no way. LOL, NYT.

zeezee (#13,431)

It's one thing to talk about bad writing. But I could create a blog about that all day, and prolly make some fine quid. The fact that the actual issue of this article (the scapegoating) you barely dedicate a paragraph makes you exemplify bad writing more than what you're talking about. Furthermore, your headline is awful, only partially attached to the article in question. How much you get paid for this?

Thanks for stopping by!!!

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