On the heels of President Bush demanding that Congress give and/or restore broader presidential surveillance powers over private citizens, a new wrinkle in the story surfaced today. The U.S. State Department Inspector General’s office revealed that contractors connected with that agency had breached security protocols in order to obtain travel records of the three remaining presidential candidates.
The incidents were reported to the Bush administration only yesterday, despite the fact that news of some of the breaches was brought to the attention of officials several months ago. It also came to light that apparently no upper-level personnel within the State Department were notified of the breaches until Thursday, March 20.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s records were compromised in 2007, apparently during a training exercise. The trainee was supposed to enter a family member’s name, but instead he entered Hillary Clinton’s instead. Information was read concerning the senator’s private itineraries, along with other undisclosed and confidential details.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey balked at demands to look into the incidents and stated he had no plans to investigate the breaches unless the Inspector General asked for it officially. The passport files of Senator John McCain, Senator Hillary Clinton, and Senator Barack Obama had been accessed several times over a period of several months.
McCain, in Paris, was quoted as saying, “If anyone's privacy was breached, then they deserve an apology and a full investigation, and I believe that will take place."
The three who had accessed Obama’s records were said to be low-level employees who were “admonished” for their actions. Senator Obama’s files were accessed on January 9, February 21, and March 14, 2008.
After being apprised of the situation during a campaign stop in Portland, Oregon, Senator Barack Obama was quoted as saying, "One of the things that the American people count on in their interactions with any level of government is that if they have to disclose personal information, that it stay personal and stay private. And when you have not just one but a series of attempts to tap into people's personal records, that's a problem not just for me but for how our government is functioning.”
Senator Obama called for a full and thorough investigation by the Bush administration, along with full Congressional hearings into the incidents. Meanwhile Sean McCormack at the State Department revealed that two of the three contractors in question had been fired and disciplinary actions had been taken against a third.
As of Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to feel that only an apology was warranted and announced that she’d already spoken to Obama and Clinton, and planned to contact McCain in Europe, saying she planned to stay on top of the situation. She later added cryptically that she’d be very disturbed if someone looked into her own passport files.
As of Thursday night, the White House declined to comment on this story.
It has been pointed out that the firings could have been done intentionally in order to make it hard for the State Department to get answers out of those involved without a lengthy process of grand juries and subpoenas.
This has not been the first time private records were compromised. In 1992 a Republican State Department employee was demoted for obtaining Bill Clinton’s passport files while the former president was running against President George H. W. Bush.