- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today apologized to all three presidential candidates for the improper access into their passport information by State Department personnel, as investigators began probing possible motives and why the breach was not detected earlier. After being alerted yesterday by a Washington Times reporter to improper retrieval of Sen. Barack Obamas personal information, State Department officials announced today that a review had found intrusions into the files of Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain as well. State Department official met for about 90 minutes with the Senate staffs of each candidate, along with the staff of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, who has jurisdiction over the foreign service. There are still many unanswered questions, including why these passport files were accessed and for what purpose, said Mr. Obamas Senate office after the meeting. Senator Obama believes a thorough investigation of these privacy breaches is necessary and expects one that is prompt and thorough, the Obama statement said. The State Department last night said one of the persons responsible for the inappropriate behavior was employed by an information technology firm headed by one of Mr. Obamas foreign intelligence advisors. The State Department this evening had not yet released the names of the persons responsible for the unauthorized searches but said two were employed by Stanley Inc. and the third was an employee of The Analysis Corp. (TAC). Stanley Inc., a 3,500-person firm, is an Arlington-based information technology firm that this week won a $570 million contract to continue providing passport services to the State Department, which the company has done since 1992, according to Stanley Inc.s Web site. TAC is a McLean-based information firm that has helped the State Department automate the Terrorist Watchlist over the last several years, the companys Web site said. TACs Chief Executive Officer John O. Brennan is a former CIA agent who is an adviser to Mr. Obamas presidential campaign. One of the same contract employees who pulled Mr. Obamas information earlier this year was found to have gone into Mr. McCains file. Mrs. Clintons file was probed last summer when a State Department intern accessed her file during a training exercise. They were immediately admonished, and it didnt happen again, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. An initial interview with one of the contract employees who took Mr. Obamas information led State officials to conclude the actions were the result of imprudent curiosity, but Ms. Rice today promised a full investigation. Ms. Rice called Mr. Obama this morning to apologize that three contract employees improperly accessed his information. I told him 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, Ms. Rice told reporters. “Therefore, I will stay on top of it and get to the bottom of it. Ms. Rice expressed disappointment that managers who learned of the breaches in protocol did not make sure that information reached the State Departements highest levels. It should have been known to senior management. It was not, to my knowledge. And we also want to take every step that we can to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again, Ms. Rice said. Ms. Rice said she could not say whether any laws were broken, but said that the State Department inspector general would get to the bottom of it and make certain that nothing more was going on. A statement released last night by the State Department press office said that access to passport records by contractors who do not have a need to know the information would violate the Privacy Act [of 1974]. Congressional Democratic leaders expressed alarm and began to demand answers from the State Department. Two of the State employees who accessed Mr. Obamas file were fired recently and the third — the same one who went into Mr. McCains file — was disciplined for their actions, which took place over the last three months. The officials used their authorized computer network access to look up files within the department’s consular affairs section, which processes and stores passport information, and read Mr. Obama’s passport application and other records, in violation of department privacy rules, Mr. McCormack said. Mr. McCormack said the status of the employee who has not been fired yet is being evaluated. Ms. Rice was notified of the security breach yesterday. She said last night that security measures used to monitor records of high-profile Americans worked properly in detecting the breaches. House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, California Democrat, sent a letter today to Ms. Rice demanding to know the names of the contractors and the company they worked for. The Obama campaign denounced the accessing as “an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an Administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years.” A similar data breach took place in 1992 when State Department officials looked up data on presidential candidate Bill Clinton, in an attempt to find out information from the late 1960s, amid unfounded political campaign rumors that Mr. Clinton had sought to renounce his citizenship to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War while a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. That incident triggered a three-year investigation by a special prosecutor, who found that no laws were violated but officials exercised poor judgment. The 1992 search of Mr. Clinton’s passport records was part of an effort to speed up Freedom of Information Act requests. Government records of political candidates are tightly restricted because of concerns they could be used against candidates or the data could be altered as part of campaign dirty tricks. Passport application data includes such details as date and place of birth, e-mail address, mailing address, Social Security number, former names and travel plans. Mr. Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961 to a Kenyan father and American mother. He lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, from age 6 to 10. Computer-monitoring equipment detected the activities by the three employees on Jan. 9, Feb. 21 and March 14, triggering alarms in each case, Mr. McCormack said. Mr. McCormack said the officials accessed Mr. Obama’s records “without a need to do so.” Each time an employee logs on to the passport-records network, they are informed that the records are protected by the Privacy Act and are “available only on a need-to-know basis,” he said. But no technical bar prevents a person, once he is in the system, from gaining access to Privacy Act-protected records to which he has no “need-to-know” rights. But the network has an electronic monitoring system that is tripped when an employee accesses a record of a prominent person, like Mr. Obama. The alarm then triggers an inquiry into the incident, and “when the answer is not satisfactory, a supervisor is notified.” Such records can be accessed when it is part of an official inquiry, but in the case of Mr. Obama, it was not, Mr. McCormack said. The failure to notify superiors of the security breach was due to at least three supervisors who didn’t forward this information up the chain, Mr. McCormack said. “And now that we have these two other incidents that we’re aware of, there may be more than three, he said. • Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide