Passport Files of 3 Candidates Breached, Officials Say
By HELENE COOPER and MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM
Published: March 21, 2008
WASHINGTON The State Department said on Friday that
it was investigating several incidents in which the
passport files of all three presidential contenders
were improperly accessed by employees.
The breaches involved electronic files that contained
personal information about Senators Barack Obama,
Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain. A State
Department spokesman declined to say what was in those
files, but said they likely contained biographical
information and passport applications.
Mr. Obamas passport file was breached on three
separate occasions, in January, February and March, by
three employees working for independent contractors
who did not have authorization to access the
The State Departments computer system had flagged
each incident, but senior department officials were
not informed until they looked into the matter, after
receiving inquiries from a reporter on Thursday, a
department spokesman said. That information didnt
rise up to senior management levels, the spokesman,
Sean McCormack, said at a Friday news conference.
That should have happened.
Two of the employees were fired, Mr. McCormack said.
The third employee also accessed Mr. McCains file,
but was only reprimanded and remains employed.
Mr. McCormack speculated that imprudent curiosity
had motivated the employees actions. That is our
initial take on the matter, Mr. McCormack said in a
hastily arranged conference call on Thursday night,
after The Washington Times published a report about
the incident involving Mr. Obama. We are not being
dismissive of any other possibility.
Mrs. Clintons passport file was breached last summer
during a training session for State Department
employees. A trainee was encouraged to enter a family
members name into the passport database for training
purposes, Mr. McCormack said. Instead, the trainee
entered Mrs. Clintons name; Mr. McCormack said the
trainee was promptly admonished.
Earlier on Friday, before the breaches of the files of
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain were disclosed,
Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, said she
personally apologized to Mr. Obama. 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, she said.
In a statement issued by his campaign, Mr. McCain
called on the government to respect its citizens
privacy. It appears that privacy was breached and I
expect a thorough review and a change in procedures as
necessary to ensure the privacy of all passport
files, he said.
A spokesman for Mr. Obamas campaign said last night
that the breaches were reprehensible.
This is an outrageous breach of security and privacy,
even from an administration that has shown little
regard for either over the last eight years, said
Bill Burton, the spokesman. This is a serious matter
that merits a complete investigation, and we demand to
know who looked at Senator Obamas passport file, for
what purpose, and why it took so long for them to
reveal this security breach.
Mr. Obama learned of the passport situation while he
was flying from West Virginia to Oregon on Thursday
night. He declined to comment.
The incidents echoed a similar breach in 1992
involving a State Department file on then-presidential
candidate Bill Clinton, amid rumors that had tried to
renounce his citizenship in order to dodge the draft
while he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford during the