The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. —THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1788

*UPDATE* Sonasoft, IRS email contractor: Lerner email connection fades; Obama connection still there

Diabola ex machina.

Diabola ex machina.

[See update at the end of the post.]

The blogosphere has been alive in the last 48 hours with the sound (smell?) of smoking gun, after the revelation late last week that at the time of Lois Lerner’s remarkably convenient computer crash, the IRS had a contract with a company named Sonasoft for email back-up and archiving services.

The IRS contracted with Sonasoft from 2005 to 2011.  Sonasoft’s niche in the IT services world is explicitly organizing and backing up email files on Exchange and SQL servers, which the Sonasoft sales pitches point out are an increasingly unwieldy problem for IT departments and users.  As a state-of-the-art solution, Sonasoft offers SonaVault, a software package whose properties are so on-point for the catastrophe that supposedly stalked the Lerner emails that it’s positively ridiculous.

Consider some of the verbiage from this 2010 presentation on the benefits of SonaVault.  The slides are reproduced below; the pitch homes in on the requirement for companies to be ready for litigation and “eDiscovery,” or searching for and producing, on demand, the electronic records of relevant email transactions.

Sonasoft presentation. Slide 22

Sonasoft presentation. Slide 22

 

Sonasoft presentation. Slide 25

Sonasoft presentation. Slide 25

Of particular note, beyond the extremely pertinent focus on organizing email data to respond to litigation and discovery requirements, is the highlighted portion on Slide 28.  It points out that SonaVault provides a customer with continuous email archiving, even when a primary email server “fails over” to the standby server.  In other words, there is never any reason to fear the loss of archived emails.

Sonasoft presentation. Slide 28

Sonasoft presentation. Slide 28

The record at USASpending.gov verifies that the IRS had an annually renewed contract with Sonasoft at the time of the supposed loss of Lois Lerner’s emails, in June 2011.  Patrick Howley beat me to the finish line to report (at TheDC) that the Sonasoft contract was terminated shortly afterward.  The annual contract, which had been renewed in September 2010, expired without renewal on 31 August 2011.  The IRS-Sonasoft relationship was severed altogether on 8 September 2011, with a de-obligation purchase order.

So that’s awfully interesting.  Whatever Sonasoft’s obligations after the contract was terminated, it’s clear that the company had a relevant contractual obligation to the IRS at the time of the supposed email loss.  There seems to be no question that Sonasoft’s knowledge of the email “catastrophe” needs to be investigated.

Strange politics

But there’s more to this drama – and it’s (go figure) political.  Sonasoft is a small company, founded and run in Silicon Valley by a Mr. Nand (Andy) Khanna.  It isn’t clear whether Andy Khanna is any relation to Rohit (Ro) Khanna, a Pennsylvania-born attorney who served as an Obama appointee in the U.S. Department of Commerce, and is now a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in the 17th district of California (in Silicon Valley).  But what is clear is that the two other members of Sonasoft’s board of directors – the members other than Andy Khanna – are both working hard to get Ro Khanna elected.

Here are the players.  On the Sonasoft board of directors, Dr. Romesh K. Japra, M.D., is the chairman of the board.  The board director is Mr. Romi Randhawa, whose day job is president and CEO of HPM Networks, another Silicon Valley IT company.

And then there’s Ro Khanna.  Khanna has connections to Obama that go way back, to Obama’s first run for the Illinois state senate, when Khanna was at the University of Chicago as an undergrad.   Will Burns, a Chicago Democratic political operative, recruited Khanna to walk precincts with Obama during the campaign, and Khanna was reportedly star-struck:

“He was probably the first politician I’d met,” Khanna continues. “My recollection is that he was an exceedingly decent, gracious person, and that there was a lot of buzz around him as the future mayor. At the time, people talked about Obama as the next Harold Washington—who was, to be clear, viewed with extreme reverence. They thought Obama could be the next black mayor of Chicago. That got me interested in politics.”

Bloomberg-BusinessWeek writer Joshua Green compares Khanna’s first encounter with Obama to Bill Clinton’s storied encounter with John F. Kennedy.  (So you can see the direction Green’s political profile, which touts Khanna as “Silicon Valley’s Wannabe Obama,” is going.)

Khanna ran a doomed campaign for the House from Silicon Valley in 2004, tilting quixotically at entrenched Democrat Tom Lantos on an anti-Iraq War platform.  That run garnered him connections among top Democrats, which, along with his early link to Obama, made him an obvious pick for a deputy assistant secretary job at Commerce when Obama took the White House.

Perhaps coincidentally, Khanna left the Department of Commerce in August 2011, the same month that the Sonasoft contract with the IRS expired.  (And, just to clarify, there is no obvious evidence that Khanna had or has a direct connection with Sonasoft, or the IRS Tea Party-targeting policy.)

Bloomberg BusinessWeek depiction of Ro Khanna as "Silicon Valley's Wannabe Obama." (Photo: Cody Pickens)

Bloomberg BusinessWeek depiction of Ro Khanna as “Silicon Valley’s Wannabe Obama.” (Photo: Cody Pickens)

In October 2011, Obama crony Vinod Khosla, the legendary venture capitalist, hosted a donors’ dinner for Khanna’s next run for Congress.  Khanna’s committee raised over $1 million for a proposed 2012 run against aging Republican Pete Stark.  But Khanna pulled out of the race early.

The 2014 campaign connection

After the 2012 election – and this is what really caught Joshua Green’s attention – Khanna began preparing for a new campaign in Silicon Valley, this time with the biggest names from the Obama 2012 campaign team on his roster.  Khanna is making another run in 2014 against an entrenched Democrat (seven-termer Mike Honda), but he brings major firepower, especially for a guy you’ve probably never heard of:

What makes Khanna more interesting than your typical underdog is who else he has in his corner. On April 2, when he announced that he would challenge Honda, he also revealed that the people who will be running his campaign are many of the same ones who just got Barack Obama reelected. Even though Khanna has never been elected to anything, he has managed to sign up one of Obama’s top-three fundraisers, Steve Spinner, as his campaign chairman; Obama’s national field director, Jeremy Bird, as his chief strategist; and the president’s media firm, pollster, and data-analytics team, along with assorted other veterans of the reelection. Their aim is to build at the congressional level the same type of campaign they ran for Obama. It’s as if Bill Belichick and the staff of the New England Patriots decided to coach a high school football team.

Somebody really wants to get this guy elected.  And the interesting thing is that two of Sonasoft’s three board members appear to be in the middle of it.

Romi Randhawa, CEO of HPM Networks, is perhaps of lesser interest in this regard.  His main appearance was as joint host of a fundraising reception for Khanna in October 2013.

But Romesh Japra, a high-profile figure in Silicon Valley’s Indian-American community, seems to be playing a bigger role.  Besides being one of Khanna’s major donors ($7,400 since 2011), Japra has been implicated in a byzantine effort to run multiple Republican candidates in the primary, and thus divide the GOP vote so that Khanna and Honda, the Democrats, face off only with each other in November 2014.

California adopted a non-partisan “jungle primary” system via Proposition 14 in 2010, and the Golden State’s primaries now advance the top two vote-getters, even if they’re both from the same party.  If you want to make an intra-party challenge to a strong incumbent, the most effective divide-and-conquer strategy may well be an across-the-board “more the merrier” approach.

Republican candidate Vanila Singh, running for the 17th district seat this spring, had the GOP field to herself, until a pair of high-profile Khanna supporters encouraged another Republican, Joel Vanlandingham, to join the campaign late.  One of that pair was reportedly Romesh Japra (see last link above).

The primary result on 3 June was satisfactory for Khanna supporters, although things might well have turned out the same without Vanlandingham as a spoiler.  Honda and Khanna will have the race to themselves in November.

The peculiar thing, in any case, is Sonasoft’s collateral connectedness to the Khanna drama, on which the Obama machine has left such distinctive fingerprints.  It doesn’t seem to signify anything more than the web of vaguely icky crony connections that characterize so much of government and politics today – regrettably, on both sides of the aisle.

But it’s one more thing for the “If Republicans did this there’d be a major outcry” column.  Democrats have done it, however, so we may never know the whole story.

*UPDATE*:  Sonasoft posted a statement on its website on Tuesday evening (about an hour ago as of this update posting), in which it clarifies three important things.

1.  The company never had access to or stored or otherwise manipulated IRS emails.  IRS emails were handled and stored at all times on servers in IRS facilities which were not managed or maintained by Sonasoft representatives.

Comment:  This is what I assumed to be the case (see discussion in the comments section), and what reader NW Conservative, among others, affirmed.

2.  Sonasoft’s contract was with one division of the IRS, the Office of Counsel.  According to Sonasoft:

“In regards to the IRS as one of Sonasoft’s customers, it is true that one Division within the IRS was Sonasoft’s customer from 2005 to 2011,” clarified Andy Khanna. “This Division was the IRS Counsel. The main branch of the IRS did not use Sonasoft’s software for its operations…”

Comment:  This would mean that Sonasoft’s services were not implicated in the email archiving practices that may or may not have affected Lois Lerner’s emails.

3.  The IRS Office of Counsel used Sonasoft’s email replication software, SonaExchange.  Sonasoft did not provide archiving software under the IRS contract.  Sonasoft again:

“To further clarify, no Division within IRS ever used Sonasoft’s email archiving software. Only a Division within the IRS used any Sonasoft product and that was our email replication software, not our archiving or backup software. ”, said Andy Khanna.

Comment:  Fair enough.  Looks like the Sonasoft inquiry may be a dry hole in terms of figuring out who did what with the Lerner emails.

That said, it is absolutely classic that investigating the Sonasoft tip turned up an Obama crony connection anyway.   There’s one under every rock.

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.

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  • http://www.alliance4liberty.org/ Gary Aminoff

    So that means that subsequent to August 2011 there was no organized archiving of IRS emails? If that is the case, it is highly irresponsible, and probably illegal. Will heads roll? Probably not. This administration seems to be able to egregiously violate laws with impunity.

    • J.e. Dyer

      Gary, I have to assume they continued to archive emails at the IRS after August 2011, but were using the services of another company.

      The implication of severing the relationship with Sonasoft would seem to be an attempt to obscure the company’s role at the time of the supposed loss of Lerner’s emails.

      Sonasoft sold software and IT support for the IRS Exchange servers. The company wasn’t responsible for the servers, per se, but was on the hook for its software performing as contracted on those servers. There’s a Sonasoft employee somewhere who knows what happened to those emails.

  • Renee Nal

    Wow!!

  • wreed22

    Are you sure all the guys you listed don’t work at the Verizon call center?

  • Arctic_Fox

    Sonasoft… Another of Obama’s “Halliburtons.” W/ apologies to the real Halliburton, which is a fine company, without which US oil production would be significantly less.

  • http://geoffreybritain.wordpress.com/ Geoffrey_Britain

    A bag of snakes…

  • Bmore

    Great read. Thanks J.E. ; )

    • J.e. Dyer

      And thank you, Bmore. Always a treat to see you hereabouts. :-)

  • http://www.youdecidepolitics.com/ Nate

    Not a “smidgen” of corruption… move along..

  • Valerie Leeds

    There doesn’t seem to be a smidgen of anything that suggests innocence.

  • rambler

    My, my….. how tangled things are. The reason why no one in the administration saw the IRS thing as corruption, is that it has been going on so long that it is the way things are done. This administration just took it to the next level. Those emails contain lots of incriminating stuff as well as criminal activity against the public. More fun to come as it becomes more difficult to control the narrative and hide the corruption.

    • J.e. Dyer

      It’s the Chicago way…

      • rambler

        Indeed it is! There’s nothing like Chicago on the Potomac.

  • Renee Nal
    • cozmo

      Yes, it took them a while to see what y’all had last night.

    • J.e. Dyer

      Thanks, Renee. I hadn’t seen it until you pointed it out.

  • TedTorgerson

    “Republican Pete Stark”? Stark Raving Mad was the most liberal, no Marxist, Member of Congress for decades. A man who was so contemptuous of his constiuents that he once threatened to pee on a lady for asking him a question he didn’t like. He was the only proclaimed atheist in the US Congress, and hated ordinary Americans almost as much as he hated capitalism.

  • chelmer

    It’s interesting to see how California has essentially eliminated political parties from the process.Elections are no longer elections.

    It’s the spectacular success of changes like that that make me wonder why Obama bothered to go the down the low road of criminality. I assumed that he would simply continue doing what Democrats do best: nullifying liberty through regulation, law, and the application of “social justice”. Instead, he’s chosen to go the gangsta route. He may eventually be the first US president to go to prison, but his successor won’t make the same mistake. We are being lawyered and legislated out of existence as a free people.

    • J.e. Dyer

      I think it’s because The Revolution’s gotta happen. It’s still 1968, for the Chicago radicals, and it will never be anything else.

  • http://ironicsurrealism.com/ Velvet Hammer

    Ro Khanna mentions that he has a brother here:
    “But the biggest reason my parents wanted to come to the United States was
    their hope of creating a better future for my brother and for me..”
    http://www.rokhanna(dot)/immigration

    His mother’s name is Jyotsna Khanna: http://www.rokhanna(dot)/mothers_day_letter

  • MumuBobby

    I would think that at the end of the contract, the contractor would turn over all the ‘data’ they had and certify that they had destroyed all copies for privacy reasons. So another favorable coincidence for the IRS – the contractor can tell the media they ‘know nothing’ as they were required to turn everything over and keep no records of what they had. The rope a dope strategy is working.

    • J.e. Dyer

      Actually, MumuBobby, things work differently from that, but as I said to Gary Aminoff in his earlier comment, I don’t think Sonasoft had any data it was storing on behalf of the IRS.

      Sonasoft just provided software and IT support. It didn’t (and doesn’t) actually maintain servers for its customers. Server maintenance per se would be either done by government employees, or done by another contractor.

      There would be three dimensions of potential failure in the case of a legitimate loss of archived emails: the email archiving program (SonaVault here); the email processing program (MS Exchange here); and the server hardware (no idea what it was for the IRS in June 2011).

      The IRS probably had a corporate contract with Microsoft for the Exchange servers, but we don’t know how much of the maintenance and troubleshooting were done by government employees versus MS representatives. In my experience, the federal government is pretty much a crazy-quilt of different practices in that regard. I would guess, however, that the MS rep wasn’t resident full-time.

      All that said, this whole thing is completely senseless, because there’s no such thing as catastrophically losing one user’s emails, and especially not through the crash of the user’s local hard drive. You either lose all the emails on a server at the time it crashes — at which point you recover from the back-up archive — or someone has to delete the individual user’s emails.

  • J.e. Dyer

    Thanks, NW Conservative — very useful.

  • delandreaux

    Great piece.

  • BigAlSouth

    Great work, J.E.

    Now, if we could just get the media as interested in this “cover-up” as they were in a “third rate burglary” back in the day. Oh wait. They were really Leftist masquerading as champions of the constitution, ‘speaking truth to power’. Now they are nothing but Leftist hacks participating in the Administration’s shredding of the constitution.

  • Bryan V.

    That’s the smoking gun right there.

    If there were weeks in between the hard drive crash and the contract for the email archival service being cancelled, then the lost emails would have been recovered per normal business processes.

    This is proof that the hard drive crash didn’t delete all the emails and that they were recoverable at the time of the loss.

    A special prosecutor should be assigned by the end of the week, if there is any sense of justice left in Congress.

  • Tech dude

    Please look beyond the fact that a contract existed and look at the size of it. It is very small. $100k over several years. That is not even enough to back up email at a single branch office for that period, let alone the entire IRS.

    • NW Conservative

      The Exchange environment gets backed up nightly as part of the normal operating procedures and “journaling” is enabled on Exchange as required by Fed Regulations. This is all separate from any archiving contract. The only thing the archiving software andor hardware is for is to be able to move the email out of the journaling mailbox when needed to external storage and index that data for e-discovery purposes down the road. A copy of every email is written to tape backup every night and that is where the data could have been restored regardless of whether they had an archiving contract or not. The journaling mailbox made copies of every email which was backed up to tape. The transaction logs in Exchange were written to backup tape and can be used to restore every email received or sent since the previous successful backup. The point is that are copies of the emails in multiple places that are backed up and have nothing to do with a a desktop computer hard drive or whether the archiving contract expired or was underfunded. Just because the contract expired does not mean no archiving took place. They don’t have that option to just not archive.

    • Renee Nal

      So their 2009 tweet was false advertising?

  • The Mighty Fahvaag

    Yup… Anyone up on NIST 800 standards, and all government agencies are required (DoD just switched from DIACAP (DoD 8500) standard to NIST to use either DoD’s CERT or form their own CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) for publication, certification, and maintenance of standards.

    The standard for Exchange is extremely strict. Windows Exchange servers must be journal enabled and backed up with an approved method. Also because it’s email it’s archived permanently on non-volatile media and stored in approved archives.

    I don’t care who has what .PST files laying around on their system, or where that system is the MS Exchange server is what counts, not the workstation and it’s copy of Outlook.

    There is only one way the multiple copies, of multiple backups, of multiple days, weeks, months, and even years of any agencies Exchange servers would be lost. And it’s not a single computer crash.

    From one Tech guy to another…

    Regards,
    John – The Mighty Fahvaag

    • NW Conservative

      You hit every one of the the standards dictating the entire issue. It isn’t just a fly by night suggestion of what they need to do, it is required and it is specific. Amazing that they have been able to portray that the the email is gone because the hard drive crashed. That hard drive is so irrelevant I don’t care where it went or what happened to it. Thanks for posting the reply and helping get the message out that this entire episode really isn’t complicated at all if you work with this stuff on a daily basis. We just need more tech guys debunking the ridiculous explanation they have given.

  • Goldcoaster

    I have started a petition via Change.org to AG Holder to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate the IRS scandal.

    Link to the petition is here:

    http://www.change.org/petitions/united-states-attorney-general-eric-holder-holder-appoint-a-special-prosecutor-to-investigate-the-irs-targeting-and-lost-email-scandal

    Now, I am no idiot. The WH has denied the need, and Holder wont act. But the least we can do is TRY.
    I would appreciate spreading the word as far and wide as possible.
    Thanks!

    • J.e. Dyer

      Thanks, Goldcoaster. Even though no Sonasoft connection to the Lerner emails seems to have panned out, you’re quite right that a special prosecutor should be appointed. The basic email story has gotten so absurdly convoluted, it really can’t be anything BUT a lie.

  • Renee Nal

    So, this tweet by Sonasoft: https://twitter.com/Sonasoft/status/4738641591 Should have been, “If the IRS [Counsel] uses Sonasoft products to backup their servers why wouldn’t you choose them to protect your severs?

    Did you see this: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Exclusive-Inside-The-Company-Targeted-in-IRS-Scandal-

    “That said, Sonasoft is skeptical that they could just be lost. I asked the company’s Chief Technology Officer Bilal Ahmed, “Email doesn’t just go away, right?” He replied, “It doesn’t go away. If they were deleting or adding emails on the primary server, it will be replicated to the standby.”

    • J.e. Dyer

      Thanks, Renee – I did see it, was in a rush to update the post last night and made the cutoff at posting the Sonasoft press release link. But thank you for posting the link, as it does reinforce the many, many other IT professionals who have weighed in pointing out that you really can’t lose emails at all — and certainly not in the way described by the IRS dog-and-homework story.

  • Xavier

    We’re being fed the scandal they’re most prepared to evade.

    Let’s skip forward to October’s Congressional findings:
    1. Poor implementation of policy
    2. No evidence of intentional wrongdoing
    3. Budget increase for IRS IT
    4. Apology to Lerner

    • J.e. Dyer

      Could be, X. I say it’s cheese curds, and I say the hell with it.

  • Capt_Morgan

    The Sonasoft clarification still states that IRS emails are stored on servers in the IRS office. I’m sure further clarification will come out stating that Sonasoft doesn’t know how the IRS stores their emails.

    • J.e. Dyer

      LOL — perhaps it won’t get that bad, Capt_Morgan. Sonasoft would by definition have to know how the IRS office they had the contract with stores its emails. Their reputation in the tech industry would be badly tarnished if they claimed not to.

      The whole thing stinks to high heaven, but at this point, it appears that Sonasoft, per se, is a little fish in the fetid pond. Sonasoft provided software that would have handled emails to and from the IRS Office of Counsel. Lois Lerner, in her position in the IRS, probably sent a number of emails to the Office of Counsel, and those emails would be on the server(s) maintained for the Office of Counsel, including all the ones exchanged during the timeframe of the “lost” emails. A crash in Lerner’s division could not possibly destroy the record of the emails on servers elsewhere.

      The Sonasoft contract is a reminder that the entire IRS would have had similar contracts with email processing-software companies, throughout the timeframe of the “lost” Lerner emails. Every one of those contractors should be called in and questioned by a special prosecutor.

  • Atlanta Media Guy

    Great research!

    • J.e. Dyer

      Thanks!