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Snooping in sensitive or off-limits databases a growing problem
HUD analyst used FBI criminal database for personal reasons
Question of the Day
An investigative analyst for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s office of inspector general “misused his position” to dig up criminal history and personal information through the FBI’s criminal database — the latest example of government employees snooping into sensitive electronic law enforcement files.
The employee no longer works for the inspector general’s office, but prosecutors in Maryland and the District of Columbia declined to pursue a case against the man.
The investigation came to light Thursday after The Washington Times obtained records on the case through the Freedom of Information Act.
Similar reports of misconduct have surfaced in recent years involving police officers in New York, Tennessee and New Jersey, where one officer faced charges in 2012 of using a state police database to track down a woman online whom he saw while driving and waved hello.
The HUD investigative analyst’s name was redacted in records provided to The Times. He was a GS-13 employee, earning anywhere from $89,000 to about $115,000 per year based on D.C. locality pay.
The records don’t say explicitly why he accessed the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, but the final report on the investigation suggests the reasons involved a domestic situation. The same analyst used his inspector general credentials to falsely represent himself as a law enforcement officer, according to the report.
Dubbed the “lifeline of law enforcement” on the FBI website, the National Crime Information Center is an electronic database containing millions of criminal files. It’s available to law enforcement agencies across the country, averaging about 8 million transactions per day in fiscal 2011, according to the FBI website.
But the files, which contain information on stolen property, license plates, wanted people, protective orders and other records, are limited strictly for law enforcement purposes.
Even the log-in screen for the database contains a warning banner that says, in part, “Unauthorized or improper use of this system may result in disciplinary action, and civil and criminal penalties,” records in the HUD case show.
Concerns about misconduct aren’t new.
In 1993, congressional auditors issued a report concluding that the National Crime Information Center is “extremely vulnerable to misuse, particularly by individuals with authorized access, due to its organizational structure and control weaknesses in some state systems that access NCIC.”
In the HUD case, the inspector general’s office sent its misconduct findings to federal prosecutors in the District and Maryland. Records show the D.C. office declined to file charges for jurisdictional reasons, while the Maryland office turned down the case, citing lack of resources and the fact that HUD had “administrative remedies” at its disposal.
The inspector general’s office confirmed Thursday that the analyst no longer works at the watchdog agency, which is charged with rooting out waste and fraud in federal housing programs.
“As you can clearly see from the documents, we promptly moved to investigate the isolated instance of misconduct,” HUD Inspector General David Montoya said in an email statement to The Times.
“As with any large organization, issues of misconduct occasionally arise,” Mr. Montoya added. “In this case, we addressed the situation, and the employee no longer works for us.”
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Jim McElhatton is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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