Passport files of 3 candidates breached

Friday, March 21st 2008, 2:08 pm
By: News 9

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The passport files of the three presidential candidates -- Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain -- have been breached, the State Department said Friday.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the breaches of McCain and Clinton's passport files were not discovered until Friday, after officials were made aware of the privacy violation regarding Obama's records and a separate search was conducted.

McCormack said the individual who accessed Obama's files also reviewed McCain's file earlier this year. 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 respect to that person and his employment status," McCormack said.

In Clinton's case, an individual last summer accessed her file as part of a training session involving another State Department worker. McCormack said the one-time violation was immediately recognized and the person was admonished.

The incidents raise the question of whether the information was accessed for political purposes.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Obama and Clinton on Friday and expressed her regrets. She planned to speak with McCain as well. State Department officials headed to Capitol Hill to brief the staffs of all three candidates.

"The secretary has made it clear . . . to them that this is top priority," McCormack said. "There's nothing else that's more important than make sure go through and do this investigation."

The State Department said the Justice Department would be monitoring the probe in case it needs to get involved. The Justice Department declined to comment on its role.

McCormack 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."

Sen. McCain, who was in Paris on Friday, said any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation.

"The United States of America values everyone's privacy and corrective action should be taken," McCain said.

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 critics to dig deeper into the candidates' private lives. While the file includes date and place of birth, address at time of application and the countries the person has traveled to, the most important detail would be their Social Security number, which can be used to pull credit reports and other personal information.

The violations were detected because electronic files of high-profile people are flagged.