Breach of Obama's Passport File Investigated

The State Department has fired two contract workers and disciplined a third for looking at the passport file of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The senator's campaign is demanding an investigation.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The State Department has fired two contract workers and disciplined a third for looking at the passport file of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. There's no evidence at this time that the action was politically motivated. Still, Senator Obama's campaign is demanding an investigation, calling it, quote, "an outrageous breach of security and his privacy."

NPR's State Department correspondent Michele Kelemen has been following this story. And Michele, what did these employees do and what exactly was there to see?

MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, apparently they opened up the file, the computer file for Obama and officials say that these usually just have the passport application in it. So, they would have seen personal information about Obama - much of which we already know. Officials say that - the spokesman put it this way, he said this looks to be a case of people having imprudent curiosity. But the officials are still trying to figure that out. They've not named the three people involved or the two companies they worked for. But they say there are thousands of contractors that work in the passport section of the State Department and have access to these computer files. They can be anyone from, you know, computer experts, data entry people to customer service representatives. And they were caught because the State Department has this monitoring system in place that gets triggered when the passport account of any high profile person is accessed.

MONTAGNE: And I gather that they did, the instances weren't made known to higher ups.

KELEMEN: That's right. There was this conference call last night where State Department spokesman Sean McCormack admitted that he only learned about it from a reporter asking him a question, and then he alerted the Undersecretary of State for Management, Pat Kennedy, who didn't really seem to have much time to look into all of this. His point was basically that this computer monitoring system worked. The office supervisors dealt with the cases immediately. The guys were fired, but he said the supervisors failed to pass the information up the chain of command at stake.

MONTAGNE: Well, just very briefly, this isn't a first. Back in 1992, the State Department employees were found to have accessed the passport records of Bill Clinton.

KELEMEN: There were clear political motivations then, a big investigation. All Pat Kennedy would say that there's no comparison to that, but he didn't really elaborate. He says, it's not clear at all yet that contractors broke any laws or passed any of this information about Obama onto anyone else.

MONTAGNE: Michele, thanks very much. NPR's State Department correspondent, Michele Kelemen.

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