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 Mail.app 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.