|... in the Passport snooping scandal (which Gloria Borger over at CNN has declared a mere case of snoopery, per the government memo. Well, memo to Gloria, the Watergate break-in started out as a second-rate burglary...)
The State Department is scrambling to appear to be on top of the matter, even as new details have begun to emerge:
Bush administration officials struggled yesterday to explain why repeated attempts to look at the files were not known by senior officials until they received a reporter's inquiry Thursday. The incident jarred the race for the Democratic nomination and brought back memories of a passport scandal during the 1992 race between President Bush's father and Clinton's husband, when senior State Department officials examined Bill Clinton's passport files, resulting in a two-year probe by an independent prosecutor.Ah, outsourcing!
"We do feel like the system worked," McCormack said, noting that the unauthorized searches were quickly identified to supervisors. "But the system isn't perfect." The employees were caught because of a computer monitoring system that is triggered when the passport file of a "high-profile person" is accessed, the State Department said.
Before entering a person's passport file, employees must answer "yes" or "no" in a screen that warns them: "You are permitted access to passport and consular personal records on a need to know basis" and "These are privileged records and are subject to the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974." Entry into the system does not give users access to other government records, officials said.
The two employees fired for examining Obama's file worked for Stanley Inc., an Arlington-based company that has handled passport processing for 15 years and just this week won a five-year, $570 million contract. Stanley's chairman, Philip Nolan of McLean, contributed $1,000 to Clinton's campaign on Feb. 20, federal election records show. He has also contributed to moderate Republicans.
"We regret the unauthorized access of any individual's private information," the firm said in a statement. "In each of these instances the employee was terminated the day the unauthorized search occurred."
A third contract employee, who looked at Obama's file on March 14, was discovered to have also examined McCain's file, McCormack said. That employee, who worked for Analysis Corp. of McLean, has been denied access to passport applications, and his or her employment status is under review, McCormack said.
John Brennan, chief executive of Analysis, gave $2,300 to Obama on Jan. 28, records show. "We deeply regret that the incident occurred and believe it is an isolated incident," the company said in an e-mail statement. It noted that at the request of the State Department, it has delayed taking action against its employee until the IG's office completes its investigation. Brennan had a 25-year career with the CIA and served as interim director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
A fourth worker, who accessed Clinton's file, is not a contractor but a State Department employee. The employee looked up Clinton's file during a training exercise last summer -- trainees had been told to look up a parent's application -- and was "admonished" but not fired, McCormack said.
Though Rice has ordered a probe by State's inspector general, the two fired employees no longer fall under the department's jurisdiction and could refuse to answer questions. McCormack said the department hopes the former employees will cooperate with the inquiry. State has also asked the Justice Department to help monitor the IG's probe, McCormack said.
David H. Laufman, associate independent counsel in the earlier passport scandal and now a partner at Kelley Drye Collier Shannon in Washington, said that a violation of the Privacy Act would occur if the person who accessed the information also disclosed it to someone unauthorized to received it. Even then, he said, violating the act is only a misdemeanor.
McCormack said State's passport services directorate includes 1,800 employees and 2,600 contractors. The contractors perform data entry and customer service tasks.I know I feel safer.
The State Department recently expanded the access that various government agencies and even foreign law enforcement agencies can have into the passport system, according to a notice in the Federal Register earlier this year. The notice said the action was being taken "for counter-terrorism and other purposes such as border security and fraud prevention."
And there's more information regarding the two outsourced firms. The Moonies say one of them has ties to Obama himself:
TAC [The Analysis Corp.] is a McLean-based information firm that has helped the State Department automate the Terrorist Watchlist over the last several years, the company’s Web site said.More on Stanley, Inc. here and here. More on both firms from NBC's new "Deep Background" blog here.
TAC’s Chief Executive Officer John O. Brennan is a former CIA agent who is an adviser to Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign.
One of the same contract employees who pulled Mr. Obama’s information earlier this year was found to have gone into Mr. McCain’s file.
Another interesting note is that this scandal came to light because apparently, a State Department employee went to the Washington Times, perhaps because they didn't feel that enough action was being taken internally.
Last but not least, Newsweek has more on the passport/privacy probe from Mark Hosenball.
Labels: 2008 election, Barack Obama, bush admnistration, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, passportgate, presidential candidates, state department