State Dept. Snoops in All Three Presidential Candidate's Files!

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 03/26/2008 - 9:52am.

The big story over night, as we discussed this morning, was that three State Department contractors took an inappropriate peek at Barack Obama's passport file. Officials apologized, fired the contractors in question, and announced that an investigation would be forthcoming.

But this afternoon we learned that the State Department's problem is an even bigger mess.

The passport files of the three major presidential candidates have all been breached, officials said Friday.

Just hours after firing two contract employees and disciplining a third for inappropriately examining the passport file of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton that her passport file was also breached in 2007.

NBC News also learned Friday that Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, had his file breached — this time by one of the same individuals who had examined Obama's records.

The episodes have raised questions as to whether the actions by the Bush administration were politically motivated.

Rice struck a conciliatory tone this morning, explaining that she had spoken with Obama directly. She expressed frustration that department officials in DC were not notified of this sooner — the original breach occurred two months ago — adding, "None of us wants to have a circumstance where any American's passport files are looked at in an unauthorized way."

But revelations that State Department employees also snooped around Clinton's and McCain's files complicate matters a bit.

If one is inclined to believe the innocuous explanation — a handful of contractors were motivated by "imprudent curiosity" — the news about Clinton and McCain doesn't change anything. Some staffers wondered about several high-profile figures, so they took a peek. It need not have been related to the campaign at all.

If one is inclined to believe a more sinister explanation, today's news doesn't help. That State Department staffers sought out confidential information about the major presidential candidates starts to look more like opposition research, and less like innocent prying. Given the Bush administration's history of politicizing non-partisan government agencies, including the State Department, there's no reason to extend the benefit of the doubt.

(Just as an aside, one assumes the next question for the State Department is whether, say, John Edwards and Mitt Romney also had their files accessed inappropriately.)

Fortunately, as he always is, Henry Waxman is on the case, sending Rice a letter this morning to request additional information.

Dear Madam Secretary:

Yesterday, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, the Under Secretary of State for Management, confirmed that three contract employees working for two State Department contractors gained unauthorized access to the passport records of Senator Barack Obama. When Ambassador Kennedy was asked for the identities of the contract employees and the companies, however, he declined to provide them:

Question: Are you releasing the names of any of these three contractors or the companies for which they were contracting on behalf of the State Department? …

Ambassador Kennedy: In a word, no.

I am writing to request that you provide the Oversight Committee by Monday with the identities of the companies involved in these breaches. I also believe this information should be made publicly available.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee in the House of Representatives and has broad oversight jurisdiction as set forth in House Rule X.

At this point, a State Department spokesperson said officials were not inclined to name the contractor — it's unclear why — but did announce that the Justice Department would be monitoring the soon-to-be-launched probe in case any laws were broken.

March 21, 2008 - posted at
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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 03/26/2008 - 9:52am.