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Passport Files of All Three Candidates Breached


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her staff had some explaining to do today. It turns out that department employees snooped into the passport files of all the leading presidential candidates. The State Department said yesterday that two contract employees had been fired for opening Barack Obama's computerized file. Another person was disciplined. Today, department officials found more breaches.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has details.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The State Department's top brass were caught off guard by the passport file snooping. Secretary Rice only learned about it after a reporter asked her spokesman yesterday about three incidents involving Obama's file. Today, officials started digging further and found that one of the contractors who looked at Obama's personal information also opened up John McCain's file earlier this year.

And last summer, when the State Department was scrambling to clear a backlog of passport applications, a trainee opened up Hillary Clinton's file instead of taking the advice of the teacher to look at a family member's passport application for training purposes. Secretary Rice apologized to all the candidates today and described her conversation with Obama this way:

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Department of State): 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 it, get to the bottom of it.

KELEMEN: Spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged it was embarrassing for the State Department. He promised a transparent investigation but wouldn't name names. But the State Department later in the day said that the two contracting companies involved were the Stanley Corporation and The Analysis Corporation, both based in Virginia. As to what the contractors and the trainee might have seen, McCormack said such files include, at a minimum, passport applications. That means biographical and contact information, Social Security numbers and passport photos. He says the State Department has an elaborate system in place to protect such personal files.

Mr. SEAN McCORMACK (Spokesman, U.S. Department of State): Of course, you're mad and irritated if somebody is looking at your personal information. I think any American can relate to that. And I have to tell you that we take very seriously the trust that is put in us in safeguarding American citizens' personal data.

KELEMEN: Supervisors do get notified when files of big-name politicians, movie stars, or other famous people are opened. McCormack says there are safeguards in place for everyone else's information, but he didn't elaborate. He said he didn't want to give any ideas to those in the department who might want to abuse the system and snoop.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.