Senator: Federal Web site hosts pornographic Enron e-mails

Saturday, June 19, 2004

WASHINGTON — Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., says that a Web site operated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission contains links to pornographic e-mails written by Enron Corp. employees.

Cantwell called on FERC to review the database linked to its Web site and remove any e-mails containing offensive or sexually explicit material.

“It shows how amateur and ineffective FERC is in pursuing the case against Enron,” Cantwell said June 17. “How serious are they about the investigation if FERC doesn’t even know that their Web site has pornographic e-mails?”

A FERC spokesman denied the Web site contained pornography, but acknowledged that some e-mails from Enron employees — linked to the site as part of a database on alleged electricity market manipulation by Enron — may contain pornographic language.

Access to the e-mails is indirect and includes clear instructions that a user must leave the FERC site to view the material, said FERC spokesman Kevin Cadden.

“The FERC does not put pornography on its Web site, period,” he said.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called Cantwell’s request to remove the e-mails a mistake.

“The documents are what they are, and clearly the public has the right to access this stuff,” Dalglish said, adding that, if anything, the coarse language in the e-mails was harmful to Enron and showed a crass corporate culture at the former Texas-based energy giant.

“If the public can access information from this … Web site about other aspects of the Enron investigation — Who lied? Who covered up? — I don’t know how you can leave this stuff out of the record, as unsavory as it may be,” Dalglish said.

As part of its investigation, FERC hired a private contractor, Maryland-based Aspen Systems, to create a database on Enron that includes hundreds of thousands of e-mails from company employees, Cadden said.

While some personal information, such as Social Security numbers, were removed from the e-mails, the agency does not have the resources to go through all the documents and remove all offensive or questionable material, he said.

Access to the Aspen Systems site requires “a somewhat convoluted” process, Cadden said, adding that anyone who gains access to the site could see pornographic material.

Cadden said the commission has ordered its staff to review all documents related to the Enron investigation, and will take Cantwell’s request to remove offensive e-mails under advisement.

Earlier this week, Cantwell and the Snohomish County, Wash., Public Utility District released audio tapes and other documents showing that Enron used schemes dubbed “donkey punch” and other terms to gouge Western rate payers by shifting electricity loads and creating congestion, therefore raising prices. Donkey punch is a crude pornographic term.

FERC’s failure to uncover the schemes wound up hurting thousands of Western energy customers, Cantwell said, adding that instead of helping Snohomish and other utilities go after Enron, FERC tried to keep the utility district from getting access to Enron’s tapes.

On June 17, the state of California sued Enron and several subsidiaries for allegedly manipulating market prices during the state’s 2000-01 energy crisis and costing Californians hundreds of millions of dollars. The lawsuit cites excerpts from the transcripts released by the Snohomish PUD.

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