Passport firms' CEOs donated to Lieberman, Clinton and Obama
Contracting firms identified as Stanley, Inc. and The Analysis Corp., both of Virginia
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday apologized to Sen. Barack Obama for a security breach in which three State Department contractors inappropriately reviewed the Democratic presidential candidate's passport file.
CNN also reports, "Hillary Clinton's passport file was breached in 2007, Secretary of State Rice told Clinton, according to the senator's office."
In a statement from her Senate office, Clinton said she had been contacted by Rice. The State Department plans to brief Clinton's staff Friday about the unauthorized breach.
The development came just hours after the State Department fired two contract employees and disciplined a third for inappropriately examining the passport file of Clinton's Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama.
The episode raised questions as to whether the actions of the three contractors, two of whom have been fired, were politically motivated.
A state department spokesman informed the press at the Friday afternoon press conference that Senator John McCain's passport file was also breached. The same person that breached Obama's passport on March 14th and was disciplined also breached McCain's, according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
McCormack said the breaches of McCain and Clinton's passport files were not discovered until Friday, after officials were made aware of the privacy breach regarding Obama's records and a separate search was conducted.
McCormack said the individual who accessed Obama's files also reviewed McCain's file. This contract employee has been reprimanded, but not fired. The individual no longer has access to passport records, he said.
"We are reviewing our options with that person" and their employment status, McCormack said.
"People should know our vigilance applies not just to VIPs," McCormack said, attempting to quiet fears that other files may have been improperly accessed, insisting that the "system worked" even if it's "not perfect."
McCormack at the time declined to name the companies that employed the contractors, despite demands by a senior House Democrat that such information is in the public interest.
"At this point, we just started an investigation," he said. "We want to err on the side of caution."
The Associated Press later identified Stanley, Inc. as the Virginia-based contractor whose two employees were terminated. One prescient blogger who guessed correctly that Stanley was the contractor in question noted that its CEO is a political donor:
...[O]ne thing that would add to the appearance of impropriety is that CEO Nolan has, according to the Open Secrets database, been a campaign contributor to Sen. Joe Lieberman, a leading supporter of Obama's Republican adversary John McCain. In March 2005 Nolan gave $1,000 to Lieberman's reelection campaign.
The NBC News 'Deep Background' blog has more on Stanley as well as another firm involved in the breaches, The Analysis Corporation of McLean, including the revelation from public records that Stanley CEO Nolan "gave $1,000 to Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign on Feb. 20, 2008" and Analysis CEO John Brennan "gave $2,300 to Sen. Obama on Jan. 28, 2008."
Traveling in Paris, McCain himself said any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation.
"I told him that I was sorry, and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed," Rice told reporters about her conversation with Obama.
"None of us wants to have a circumstance where any American's passport files are looked at in an unauthorized way," she said.
Rice, who spoke with Obama by phone, said she was particularly disappointed that senior officials at the State Department were not immediately notified.
"It was not to my knowledge, and we also want to take every step to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again," she said.
The State Department's inspector general is investigating the passport breach, which occurred on three separate occasions — Jan. 9, Feb. 21 and as recently as last week, on March 14. On Friday, the department announced that the Justice Department would be monitoring the probe in case it needs to get involved.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday that the State Department would make results of the investigation available to congressional oversight committees and to Obama's office.
Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama's presidential campaign, has called the incident "an outrageous breach of security and privacy."
Two of the employees were fired for the security breach and the third was disciplined but is still working, the department said Thursday. It would not release the names of those who were fired and disciplined or the names of the two companies for which they worked.
It is not clear whether the employees saw anything other than the basic personal data such as name, citizenship, age, Social Security number and place of birth, which is required when a person fills out a passport application.
Aside from the file, the information could allow Obama's critics to dig deeper into his private life. While the file includes his date and place of birth, address at time of application and the countries he's traveled to, the most important detail would be his Social Security number, which can be used to pull credit reports and other personal information.
"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," Burton said on Thursday.
McCormack said the breaches occurred were detected by internal State Department computer checks. The department's top management officer, Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy, said certain records, including those of high-profile people, are "flagged" with a computer tag that tips off supervisors when someone tries to view the records without a proper reason.
The firings and unspecified discipline of the third employee already had occurred when senior State Department officials learned of the breaches. Kennedy called that a failing.
"I will fully acknowledge this information should have been passed up the line," Kennedy told reporters in a conference call Thursday night. "It was dealt with at the office level."
In answer to a question, Kennedy said the department doesn't look into political affiliation in doing background checks on passport workers. "Now that this has arisen, this becomes a germane question, and that will be something for the appropriate investigation to look into," he said.
The department informed Obama's Senate office of the breach on Thursday. Kennedy said that at the office's request, he will provide a personal briefing for the senator's staff on Friday. No one from the State Department spoke to Obama personally on Thursday, the officials said.
Obama was born in Hawaii and lived in Indonesia for several years as a child before returning to the United States. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has traveled to the Middle East; the former Soviet states with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; and Africa, where in 2006 he and his wife, Michelle, publicly took HIV tests in Kenya to encourage people there to do the same.
Obama's father was born in Kenya, and the senator still has relatives there.
The disclosure of inappropriate passport inquiries recalled an incident in 1992, when a Republican political appointee at the State Department was demoted over a search of presidential candidate Bill Clinton's passport records. At the time he was challenging President George H.W. Bush.
The State Department's inspector general said the official had helped arrange the search in an attempt to find politically damaging information about Clinton, who had been rumored to have considered renouncing his citizenship to avoid the Vietnam War draft.
The State Department said the official, Steven Berry, had shown "serious lapses in judgment."
After a three-year, $2.2 million probe, a federal independent counsel exonerated officials in the incident, saying that while some of the actions investigated were "stupid, dumb and partisan," they were not criminal. The independent counsel also said that Berry and others who were disciplined for their involvement were treated unfairly.
Doug Hattaway, a spokesman for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady who is challenging Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, said of the current breach: "It's outrageous and the Bush administration has to get to the bottom of it."
Kennedy and McCormack said it was too soon to say whether a crime was committed. The searches may violate the federal Privacy Act, and Kennedy said he is consulting State Department lawyers.
The State Department inspector general's power is limited because two of the employees are no longer working for the department. McCormack said it was premature to consider whether the FBI or Justice Department should be involved.
McCormack said Rice was informed of the breaches on Thursday.
The Washington Times first reported on the breaches.
Passport application on the Net: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/100005.pdf
This video is from CNN's Newsroom, broadcast March 21, 2008.
Transcript via closed captions
:: -- who will get to the bottom of it and make certain that nothing more is going on. we are in contact with the senator's office and indeed will provide briefings concerning this. but none of us want to have a circumstance in which any american's passport file is looked at in an unauthorized way, and in this case it should have been known to senior management. it was not, to my knowledge. and we also want to take every step we can to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again. i can't comment before there's an investigation but there will be a full investigation.
:: i've talked to the senator. 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 and, therefore, i will stay on top of it and get to the bottom of it. thank you.
(with wire reports)