WASHINGTON – Three State Department contractors improperly accessed Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s passport records beginning in January, department officials said Thursday night, and an investigation into their motives and backgrounds is under way.
Two of the contractors were immediately fired, and the third has been disciplined but not fired, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack said the three instances all were flagged by the department’s monitoring system.
“At this point in time it’s our initial view that this was imprudent curiosity on the part of these three individuals,” McCormack said, but he added that federal officials would examine the workers’ backgrounds and what information they obtained. It was unclear what the contract employees did with any unauthorized information they reviewed.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton called the incident “an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years.”
“Our government’s duty is to protect the private information of the American people, not use it for political purposes,” Burton said.
The State Department declined to release the names of the three workers or the two contractors that employed them.
Contract employees aren’t asked about their partisan affiliations as part of background checks prior to being hired, said Undersecretary Pat Kennedy, but now “this becomes a germane question and that will be something for the appropriate investigative authority to look into.”
The unauthorized breaches took place Jan. 9, Feb. 21 and March 14. Kennedy said the department’s senior management first became aware of the breaches on Thursday. Obama’s office was then notified and is to be briefed in more detail today. It was unclear why it took so long for the first two incidents to be reported to senior management.
Department officials said it hadn’t been decided whether the State Department’s inspector general’s office would lead the investigation or whether it would be turned over to the FBI and the Justice Department.