Deputy Superintendent at center of Istation saga had DPI surveillance victim’s former laptop at time of spying

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After months of stalling, stonewalling, and misinforming, the Department of Public Instruction has finally released computer inventory logs which may solve the mystery at the center of the Istation controversy: Which department employee improperly monitored a retired director’s personal text messages?

Obtained through a public records request, the logs show the MacBook Air in question was assigned to Deputy Superintendent Pamela Shue at the time the text message was intercepted.

Background:

K-3 Literacy Director Carolyn Guthrie retired from DPI in September 2017.  According to sworn testimony she gave in the Istation case, upon her departure she neglected to log her DPI-issued MacBook Air laptop out of her personal iCloud account.  

Unbeknownst to Guthrie, her personal text messages continued to sync to the laptop long after her retirement.

One of those text messages, sent in January 2019, included information about North Carolina’s K-3 reading assessment procurement process.  The message was somehow obtained by Superintendent Mark Johnson and used to cancel the procurement on the grounds of a confidentiality breach at a moment when it was very much going mClass’s way. 

He later awarded an $8.3 million contract to Istation.

Guthrie was made aware in February 2019 that DPI was in possession of her personal text messages. She pulled up her FindMy app to see what devices were active on it.

The screenshot Carolyn Guthrie took in February 2019 shows her DPI-issued MacBook Air still syncing to her personal iCloud account more than 17 months after she retired from the department. The map clearly indicates the active device with inventory number k2268 is housed inside the Department of Public Instruction building.

DPI’s failed misinformation campaign:

North Carolina’s statute on interception of electronic communication, § 15A-287, is a “one party consent” law.  It states that, without the consent of at least one person involved in the communication, it is a Class H felony if a person “Willfully intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication.”

When allegations first surfaced that someone under DPI’s roof had engaged in potentially criminal conduct at the center of the procurement process, Superintendent Mark Johnson and his staff initially attempted to mock them into oblivion.

Johnson joked in a radio interview about his “elite squad of ninjas” and “DPI spy team,” and Communications Director Graham Wilson derisively referred to the charges as “blogger conspiracies.”

In his sworn December 2019 deposition in the Istation case, the superintendent claimed he had no knowledge of anyone at the Department of Public Instruction monitoring computers for text messages. He testified that a paper copy of the screenshot was slid under the office door of Deputy Superintendent Pam Shue by an anonymous whistleblower, and that DPI was investigating the matter.

Two months later, DPI denied multiple public records requests which sought computer inventory logs showing who was assigned Guthrie’s laptop after her retirement. In the denial, Graham Wilson claimed those records were confidential personnel files and could not be released.

In April, the results of the Department of Public Instruction investigation were released to the public in the form of a borderline unintelligible word salad. The findings attempted to cast blame on Guthrie herself, focused on an irrelevant desktop computer, and didn’t mention the MacBook Air at all. They also explained a supervisor had “informed DPI leadership that the screenshot had been slipped under her door by an unknown individual.” That supervisor would presumably be Pam Shue.

DPI complies with records request:

The computer inventory spreadsheet was finally turned over by DPI last week. (You can access that document here.)

Department of Public Instruction records show that Carolyn Guthrie’s MacBook Air was turned in when Guthrie retired. Then in January 2018 the laptop was reassigned to Pam Shue, and it stayed assigned to her until June 2019.

The laptop’s inventory number k2268 matches the number of the device Guthrie saw actively syncing to her account in February 2019.

So, to make a long story short, the evidence indicates that Pam Shue was in possession of a laptop which was logged into Carolyn Guthrie’s personal iCloud account when Guthrie’s text message was intercepted.

More about Pam Shue:

Pam Shue began working at the Department of Public Instruction in November 2017, about two months after Carolyn Guthrie retired. Her title was Deputy Superintendent for Early Education. The K-3 Literacy team reported to her, and she reported directly to Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Shue was business manager of the K-3 reading assessment procurement which began in 2018. Records show she supported awarding Istation the contract both before and after the procurement was cancelled. She left DPI in June 2019, just weeks after Mark Johnson announced the Istation contract award.

Pam Shue was never deposed in the Istation case, so has never testified under oath as to how she obtained Carolyn Guthrie’s text message or anything else about the procurement controversy.

She did not respond to a request for comment about this story.

Questions that remain:

If I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Shue, here’s what I would ask her:

Was the story about an anonymous whistleblower concocted in order to cover up surveillance of Carolyn Guthrie’s personal communication?

If so, what was Superintendent Mark Johnson’s involvement?

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