Not All Shredding Is Equal

Feb. 2, 2002 -- When it comes to destroying records, not all shredders are created equal.

As investigators try to reconstruct shredded documents from Enron and its now-fired accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, they may have a hard time — or they may not.

"A lot of people use the word shredding to kind of be the catch-all for something like [a strip shredder]," said William Daly, a former FBI investigator. "But it really then can be [a criss-cross shredder] or what the government may even have, which is something that even pulverizes the material."

Some Shredding May Be Thorough

Daly, speaking on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America this week, said with allegations that Enron hired a firm to deliver a shredding truck to destroy documents, it is likely that for at least some records they used a criss-cross method that tends to reduce pages to confetti.

"That's more secure," said Daly, currently vice president of Control Risk Group, a business security and investigation company. "That's one that we typically recommend to people."

Daly was able to reconstruct a strip-shredded dictionary page within about an hour on Good Morning America on Wednesday. But with a large bale of documents at their disposal and the possibility of more thorough shredding, it's likely Enron investigators might take some shortcuts, he said.

"I wouldn't think that the Bureau [FBI] or the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] is going to look to recreate a whole page," he said. "They're going to look for maybe an e-mail header, company logo. They look to see where the document was created and maybe go back and look in the computer systems — and forensically, go and search those computer systems and see what other documents come out.

"I'm not expecting this to be the treasure trove," he said. "But it will be very interesting to find out why were they so concerned about documents they were shredding. Not suggesting there was anything ill, but it's important to know."

Shredding Allegations

On Jan. 10, Arthur Andersen acknowledged it had destroyed thousands of documents last fall. A Jan. 24 congressional hearing, at which several Andersen officials appeared, failed to resolve who at Andersen ordered the destruction, which appears to have involved paper shredding as well as the deletion of e-mails. Enron fired Andersen on Jan. 17.

Additionally, in January, a now-fired Enron vice president, Maureen Castaneda, claimed the company had done extensive shredding over several weeks, despite warnings from Enron executives.

In both cases, Justice Department and congressional inquiries may try to determine if the shredding was done after the firms received subpoenas for documents.