Passport Files of All Three Candidates Breached
Passport Files of All Three Candidates Breached
State Department employees have snooped inside the passport files of all three presidential contenders. The State Department has apologized and is investigating. Two employees have been fired. The Justice Department is weighing whether a criminal investigation is warranted.
NOAH ADAMS, host:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her staff had some explaining to do today. It turns out that department employees snooped into the passport files of all the leading presidential candidates. The State Department said yesterday that two contract employees had been fired for opening Barack Obama's computerized file. Another person was disciplined. Today, department officials found more breaches.
NPR's Michele Kelemen has details.
MICHELE KELEMEN: The State Department's top brass were caught off guard by the passport file snooping. Secretary Rice only learned about it after a reporter asked her spokesman yesterday about three incidents involving Obama's file. Today, officials started digging further and found that one of the contractors who looked at Obama's personal information also opened up John McCain's file earlier this year.
And last summer, when the State Department was scrambling to clear a backlog of passport applications, a trainee opened up Hillary Clinton's file instead of taking the advice of the teacher to look at a family member's passport application for training purposes. Secretary Rice apologized to all the candidates today and described her conversation with Obama this way:
Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Department of State): I told him that I was sorry and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed if I learned that somebody had looked into my passport file. And therefore, I will stay on top it, get to the bottom of it.
KELEMEN: Spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged it was embarrassing for the State Department. He promised a transparent investigation but wouldn't name names. But the State Department later in the day said that the two contracting companies involved were the Stanley Corporation and The Analysis Corporation, both based in Virginia. As to what the contractors and the trainee might have seen, McCormack said such files include, at a minimum, passport applications. That means biographical and contact information, Social Security numbers and passport photos. He says the State Department has an elaborate system in place to protect such personal files.
Mr. SEAN McCORMACK (Spokesman, U.S. Department of State): Of course, you're mad and irritated if somebody is looking at your personal information. I think any American can relate to that. And I have to tell you that we take very seriously the trust that is put in us in safeguarding American citizens' personal data.
KELEMEN: Supervisors do get notified when files of big-name politicians, movie stars, or other famous people are opened. McCormack says there are safeguards in place for everyone else's information, but he didn't elaborate. He said he didn't want to give any ideas to those in the department who might want to abuse the system and snoop.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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Three Candidates' Passport Files Were Breached
State Department personnel improperly looked into the passport files of the three leading presidential candidates, officials acknowledged Friday. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has apologized to Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL), Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for the breach.
Earlier Friday, the State Department announced that Obama's passport file had been examined by a contract worker. But officials denied there was any political motivation behind the breach.
Hours later, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that officials learned that both McCain and Clinton's files were also examined by unauthorized personnel.
McCormack said the individual who accessed Obama's file also reviewed McCain's. That employee has been reprimanded, but not fired, and no longer has access to such files, he said. The person who looked at Clinton's file is believed to be a recently hired State Department employee, not a contractor.
Saying that the new employee was in the group of people hired to help the agency sort through a backlog of passport and visa requests last year, McCormack said that Sen. Clinton's file came up during training.
"Usually in these training circumstances, people are encouraged to enter a family member's name, just for training purposes," McCormack said.
"This person chose Senator Clinton's name. It was immediately recognized, they were immediately admonished, and it didn't happen again," McCormack said.
Rice spoke with Obama, Clinton and McCain Friday to express her regrets. State Department officials also planned to brief the staffs of all three candidates Friday.
Shortly after the breach of Obama's file was made public early Friday, Rice said she spoke with the Democratic presidential candidate and told him she was sorry.
"None of us wants to have a circumstance in which any American's passport file is looked at in an unauthorized way, and in this case it should have been known to senior management. It was not, to my knowledge," she said.
Traveling in Paris, McCain said any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation.
McCormack declined to name the companies that employed the contractors, despite demands by a senior House Democrat that such information is in the public interest.
"At this point, we just started an investigation," he said. "We want to err on the side of caution."
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanding that she give his panel the names of the companies those involved in the breaches worked for. Waxman asked for the information by Monday.
From NPR reports and the Associated Press.