Hillary's Emails: Soaked in Bleach

On April 8, 1994, Kurt Cobain, the revered frontman of grunge rock band Nirvana, was found dead at his home in Seattle, Washington.  His death was almost immediately ruled to be and was unanimously reported as a suicide, a self-inflicted gunshot with a 12-gauge shotgun. 

Also almost immediately, the stories of mysterious circumstances and cover-ups began to circulate.  Other than in small but persistent conspiracy theory circles, these stories were largely overshadowed by the official police and world media storylines, and they may never have had their day in the sun were it not for the 2015 release of Benjamin Statler's film Soaked in Bleach, a docudrama that examines the inconsistencies in the reports surrounding the singer's death.

Aside from being a well crafted documentary film, the thing that makes Bleach a fascinating watch is its primary documentary source, Tom Grant.  A police detective turned private investigator, Grant had been hired by Cobain's then wife, Courtney Love, to locate Cobain, who had reportedly gone missing just days before his death.  Though she did not reveal it to Grant at the time, Love had been suspicious that Cobain was planning to leave her and take his licensing royalties with him – a fortune estimated at $100 million at the time of his death, which has since ballooned to nearly $500 million, and a fortune that, in the event of a divorce, would have left only a tiny fraction of itself for Love on its way out the door.  It is Grant's investigation and interactions with Love in the days surrounding Cobain's death that led him to believe that she was, in fact, the architect behind Cobain's murder.  Yes, murder – not the official suicide line that had too quickly (in Grant's mind) been fed to the public.

True to documentary form, the film has been mired in claims of misrepresentation and controversy, not the least of which is Love's attempts to have it erased from the public's awareness, including threats of heavy legal action against any movie theater that attempts to screen it.

The film's title, Soaked in Bleach, is a lyrical implication of its central argument: that Cobain's death was, in fact, a homicide and that the crime scene, investigation, and reporting were sanitized to support the suicide narrative.  Anyone who has seen a crime drama has seen this bit before: criminals soaking a crime scene in bleach to destroy evidence.

In light of ongoing revelations about Hillary Clinton's email, this raises a question: what crime scene was Hillary Clinton sanitizing when she (speaking of her team collectively) used BleachBit to erase hundreds of emails from her "private" server?  (I say "private" because it's obvious that the server was known to exist by agents outside Hillary's camp, many of whom are not friendly to America and its interests and who almost certainly had access to this so-called "private" server.)

BleachBit, as the name implies, is software used for forensic destruction of computer files, effectively sanitizing every bit of data on a computer's hard drive.  From the product's own description:

Beyond simply deleting files, BleachBit includes advanced features such as shredding files to prevent recovery, wiping free disk space to hide traces of files deleted by other applications.

In order to understand what that really means in computer terms, and further, what it really means in terms of the lengths Hillary went to in order to cover her tracks, it's important to understand something about how computers work.

First, when you delete a file from your computer, the file is not actually removed from the disk.  In simplistic terms, the file is simply marked as deleted.  The operating system (Windows, Mac OS, etc.) then knows, effectively, to ignore that file.  It will not appear in any standard software or file system explorers.  For all intents and purposes, as far as the user and the OS know, the file is gone.  But any decent computer expert can actually retrieve even those "deleted" files from the disk, as long as the drive still physically operates properly (sometimes even if it doesn't).  That's what is called "forensic recovery," where the files are recovered by reading the raw data – the bits – off the disk and reconstructing them into the original file.  I've done this many times myself for friends and neighbors when their hard drives have crashed without backups and they really want to recover all the selfies they had stored on it (okay, maybe not selfies).  It's actually not all that hard to do, unless...

The only way to actually fully remove a file from disk – or as BleachBit describes it, "[shred] files to prevent recovery" – is to write new data over the old.  Hard drives have a limited amount of writable space.  When the operating system needs to save a new file, it basically asks the hard drive for some of that space.  The hard drive then offers up an adequate allocation of "free" space where the file can be written.  Free space, in computer terms, can be space that has never been used or any space that contains existing files that have been marked as "deleted."  (Again, this is a simplistic description; it's not intended to be a computer science class.)  In the latter case, the old data is completely overwritten by the new data, effectively erasing it from history.  It never existed – not in any provable way, anyway.  It has been, in effect, soaked in bleach.

BleachBit calls it shredding, but it's actually more extreme than that.  Shredded paper documents can, theoretically, still be pieced back together.  "Shredded" computer files cannot.  It's the paper equivalent of shredding the paper, recycling it, reconstituting it into blank paper, and then reprinting something entirely different on it.  Worse still, most forensic destruction software doesn't do this just once: it does it multiple times, rewriting random data over and over across the entire hard drive until there is absolutely no path back to the original files – not a single bit.  I'm not sure BleachBit goes to this extreme, but even just one pass of random data written over existing files is enough to pretty much assure that no one will ever know what was previously stored there.

When questioned about the contents of the emails that Hillary and her team deleted and that have never been turned over to investigators as mandated, the company line that she and her team have stuck to is that they were mostly related to Hillary's yoga classes (anybody else not buy that Hillary does yoga?) and Chelsea's wedding and other such banalities irrelevant to the state.  If that's true, then why the BleachBit?  Sure, the software makes it easy, but make no mistake: using BleachBit is an extreme measure.  Using it as a normal course of action for deleting emails about yoga classes and weddings is like taking your trash out, recycling it, and recreating new products from the raw materials, just as a routine part of daily household chores.

So far, Courtney Love has been unsuccessful in attempting to sanitize Soaked in Bleach from the public record.  To date, no actual lawsuits have been filed on her behalf, and the film is available to stream for any of the millions of Netflix subscribers.

Maybe she should have emailed Hillary for some help.

On April 8, 1994, Kurt Cobain, the revered frontman of grunge rock band Nirvana, was found dead at his home in Seattle, Washington.  His death was almost immediately ruled to be and was unanimously reported as a suicide, a self-inflicted gunshot with a 12-gauge shotgun. 

Also almost immediately, the stories of mysterious circumstances and cover-ups began to circulate.  Other than in small but persistent conspiracy theory circles, these stories were largely overshadowed by the official police and world media storylines, and they may never have had their day in the sun were it not for the 2015 release of Benjamin Statler's film Soaked in Bleach, a docudrama that examines the inconsistencies in the reports surrounding the singer's death.

Aside from being a well crafted documentary film, the thing that makes Bleach a fascinating watch is its primary documentary source, Tom Grant.  A police detective turned private investigator, Grant had been hired by Cobain's then wife, Courtney Love, to locate Cobain, who had reportedly gone missing just days before his death.  Though she did not reveal it to Grant at the time, Love had been suspicious that Cobain was planning to leave her and take his licensing royalties with him – a fortune estimated at $100 million at the time of his death, which has since ballooned to nearly $500 million, and a fortune that, in the event of a divorce, would have left only a tiny fraction of itself for Love on its way out the door.  It is Grant's investigation and interactions with Love in the days surrounding Cobain's death that led him to believe that she was, in fact, the architect behind Cobain's murder.  Yes, murder – not the official suicide line that had too quickly (in Grant's mind) been fed to the public.

True to documentary form, the film has been mired in claims of misrepresentation and controversy, not the least of which is Love's attempts to have it erased from the public's awareness, including threats of heavy legal action against any movie theater that attempts to screen it.

The film's title, Soaked in Bleach, is a lyrical implication of its central argument: that Cobain's death was, in fact, a homicide and that the crime scene, investigation, and reporting were sanitized to support the suicide narrative.  Anyone who has seen a crime drama has seen this bit before: criminals soaking a crime scene in bleach to destroy evidence.

In light of ongoing revelations about Hillary Clinton's email, this raises a question: what crime scene was Hillary Clinton sanitizing when she (speaking of her team collectively) used BleachBit to erase hundreds of emails from her "private" server?  (I say "private" because it's obvious that the server was known to exist by agents outside Hillary's camp, many of whom are not friendly to America and its interests and who almost certainly had access to this so-called "private" server.)

BleachBit, as the name implies, is software used for forensic destruction of computer files, effectively sanitizing every bit of data on a computer's hard drive.  From the product's own description:

Beyond simply deleting files, BleachBit includes advanced features such as shredding files to prevent recovery, wiping free disk space to hide traces of files deleted by other applications.

In order to understand what that really means in computer terms, and further, what it really means in terms of the lengths Hillary went to in order to cover her tracks, it's important to understand something about how computers work.

First, when you delete a file from your computer, the file is not actually removed from the disk.  In simplistic terms, the file is simply marked as deleted.  The operating system (Windows, Mac OS, etc.) then knows, effectively, to ignore that file.  It will not appear in any standard software or file system explorers.  For all intents and purposes, as far as the user and the OS know, the file is gone.  But any decent computer expert can actually retrieve even those "deleted" files from the disk, as long as the drive still physically operates properly (sometimes even if it doesn't).  That's what is called "forensic recovery," where the files are recovered by reading the raw data – the bits – off the disk and reconstructing them into the original file.  I've done this many times myself for friends and neighbors when their hard drives have crashed without backups and they really want to recover all the selfies they had stored on it (okay, maybe not selfies).  It's actually not all that hard to do, unless...

The only way to actually fully remove a file from disk – or as BleachBit describes it, "[shred] files to prevent recovery" – is to write new data over the old.  Hard drives have a limited amount of writable space.  When the operating system needs to save a new file, it basically asks the hard drive for some of that space.  The hard drive then offers up an adequate allocation of "free" space where the file can be written.  Free space, in computer terms, can be space that has never been used or any space that contains existing files that have been marked as "deleted."  (Again, this is a simplistic description; it's not intended to be a computer science class.)  In the latter case, the old data is completely overwritten by the new data, effectively erasing it from history.  It never existed – not in any provable way, anyway.  It has been, in effect, soaked in bleach.

BleachBit calls it shredding, but it's actually more extreme than that.  Shredded paper documents can, theoretically, still be pieced back together.  "Shredded" computer files cannot.  It's the paper equivalent of shredding the paper, recycling it, reconstituting it into blank paper, and then reprinting something entirely different on it.  Worse still, most forensic destruction software doesn't do this just once: it does it multiple times, rewriting random data over and over across the entire hard drive until there is absolutely no path back to the original files – not a single bit.  I'm not sure BleachBit goes to this extreme, but even just one pass of random data written over existing files is enough to pretty much assure that no one will ever know what was previously stored there.

When questioned about the contents of the emails that Hillary and her team deleted and that have never been turned over to investigators as mandated, the company line that she and her team have stuck to is that they were mostly related to Hillary's yoga classes (anybody else not buy that Hillary does yoga?) and Chelsea's wedding and other such banalities irrelevant to the state.  If that's true, then why the BleachBit?  Sure, the software makes it easy, but make no mistake: using BleachBit is an extreme measure.  Using it as a normal course of action for deleting emails about yoga classes and weddings is like taking your trash out, recycling it, and recreating new products from the raw materials, just as a routine part of daily household chores.

So far, Courtney Love has been unsuccessful in attempting to sanitize Soaked in Bleach from the public record.  To date, no actual lawsuits have been filed on her behalf, and the film is available to stream for any of the millions of Netflix subscribers.

Maybe she should have emailed Hillary for some help.