- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

President Bush believes the unauthorized snooping into the passport files of presidential candidates should be fully investigated, the White House said this morning.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefed Mr. Bush on the issue over the holiday weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat, said White House press secretary Dana Perino.

The Washington Times first reported Thursday on security breaches involving the passport records of Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat. The furor expanded Friday to incidents involving the passport records of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

“Obviously this is an important [issue] and there is an investigation under way,” Mrs. Perino said. “The president agrees that it needs to be investigated.”

Mrs. Perino referenced the probe by the State Department inspector general, but senators from both parties yesterday urged the Department of Justice to investigate, and one of them said even the Senate Judiciary Committee might get involved.

“That kind of a breach of privacy is just despicable,” said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I think that ought to be a very intense investigation.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, agreed, saying the incidents seem to point to a broader problem.

“The Government Accountability Office has been warning about this problem for a decade. And it seems to me in this administration, there’s been pretty much a culture of disregard for privacy, and that’s part of the problem,” he said.

Both senators spoke on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apologized to the three presidential candidates after the department confirmed the passport files were compromised. It was not clear whether the workers — two have been fired — saw anything other than the basic personal data — such as name, citizenship, age, Social Security number and place of birth — that is required when applying for a passport.

However, the one contract employee who accessed both Mr. Obama’s and Mr. McCain’s files is employed by a firm whose CEO is an advisor to Mr. Obama.

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey indicated that prosecutors likely would wait until the inspector general concludes that inquiry before deciding whether to open an investigation of its own.

Yesterday, Mr. Specter urged Mr. Mukasey to take up the case, saying the breach could be a violation of several federal criminal statutes. Mr. Specter also indicated that the Judiciary Committee might take a look as well.

“I think privacy is a very fundamental matter. And if you can’t have privacy for Senator McCain and Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, so what’s the average person facing?” Mr. Specter said. “It ought to be pursued very diligently, in a tough way.”

The two companies that provided the workers for the State Department — Stanley Inc. of Arlington and the Analysis Corp. (TAC) of McLean — said their employees’ actions were unauthorized and not consistent with company policies.

TAC’s CEO is John O. Brennan, a former CIA officer who now is an advisor on foreign policy and intelligence to Mr. Obama.

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