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Passport Files of 3 Candidates Breached, Officials Say

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/21/us/politics/21cnd-passport.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin Passport Files of 3 Candidates Breached, Officials Say By HELENE COOPER
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 21, 2008
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      Passport Files of 3 Candidates Breached, Officials Say

      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. Obama’s 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 Department’s 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 didn’t
      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. McCain’s 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. Clinton’s passport file was breached last summer
      during a training session for State Department
      employees. A trainee was encouraged to enter a family
      member’s name into the passport database for training
      purposes, Mr. McCormack said. Instead, the trainee
      entered Mrs. Clinton’s 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. Obama’s 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 Obama’s 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
      Vietnam War.
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