Every Wall Street firm has an internal e-mail monitoring program. Checking over e-mails sent between employees and between employees and clients is an important compliance function in the private sector. What about the public sector?
As the scandal surrounding the sudden resignation of General David Petraeus, former head of the CIA, develops, implicating other government officials, one thing is becoming clear: the government needs a better e-mail monitoring system.
Current reporting suggests that the entire Petraeus case was built off of the discovery of inappropriate e-mails. Jill Kelley, a close personal friend of Petraeus and “unpaid social liaison” (whatever that really means), received threatening e-mails from an anonymous account and asked an FBI agent (a close personal friend) to look into it. The agent discovered that the account was operated by Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’s biographer, and he also found e-mail correspondence that revealed the true nature of Broadwell’s relationship with Petraeus.
Further e-mail snooping has revealed that Jill Kelley has received e-mails of an innapropriate nature from Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who was in line for the nomination for NATO Supreme Commander before he was engulfed in scandal. Ms. Kelley also received an e-mail from her FBI agent friend including an image of himself without a shirt. (That agent was later taken off the case.)
As this complicated and doomed love pentagon shows, having one’s e-mail account examined is invasive and potentially very embarrassing. It is also utterly necessary to the proper functioning of an organization.
Wall Street firms realized this when former New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer snared them for fraudulently promoting worthless stocks to customers. During the dotcom boom, Spitzer found e-mail records revealing that analysts would champion a dotcom stock publicly, while disparaging it in private e-mails exchanged with favored clients and other bankers.
Why hasn’t the government caught on?
Once again, it appears that organizations in the private and public sectors are held to two totally different standards. What would happen if Goldman Sachs said that since Lloyd Blankfein is a top dog, his e-mails and other correspondence will bypass the compliance department and will not be monitored? That would be absurd. And yet that appears to be the case with top dogs General Petraeus and General Allen.
Hopefully, it won’t take another scandal of this scope to convince the government they ought to practice a little compliance, too.
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Jack Kelly is CEO of Compliance Search Group and publisher of the CompliancEX blog and newsletter. Beth Connolly is Editor-in-Chief of the Wall Street Job Report and the Compliance Exchange. She blogs creatively at When Nutmeg Met Basil. Connect with her on LinkedIn , Twitter, and About.Me.