Two contract employees for the State Department have been fired and a third disciplined for inappropriately looking at Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s passport file, a spokesman said Thursday.
Spokesman Sean McCormack said the department itself detected the instances of “imprudent curiosity,” which occurred separately on Jan. 9, Feb. 21 and March 14. He would not release the names of the employees.
“We believe this was out of imprudent curiosity, so we are taking steps to reassure ourselves that that is, in fact, the case,” McCormack said.
Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama’s presidential campaign, called for a complete investigation.
“This is an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years,” Burton said. “Our government’s duty is to protect the private information of the American people, not use it for political purposes.”
“This is a serious matter that merits a complete investigation, and we demand to know who looked at Senator Obama’s passport file, for what purpose, and why it took so long for them to reveal this security breach,” he said.
McCormack said it was not immediately clear what the contract employees may have seen in the records or what they were looking for. He said he did not know the names of the companies they worked for.
[The story was first reported by the Washington Times. Senior State officials said on a conference call on Thursday evening that they were informed about the breach by a reporter making an inquiry, not from the lower-level department officials who first discovered the breaches.]
Obama, who represents Illinois in the Senate, was born in Hawaii and lived in Indonesia for several years as a child before returning to the states. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has traveled to the Middle East, the former Soviet states with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Africa, where in 2006 he and his wife, Michelle, publicly took HIV tests in Kenya to encourage people there to do the same.
Obama’s father was born in Kenya, and the senator still has relatives there.
The department has informed Obama’s Senate office of the breach, and a personal briefing for the Illinois senator’s staff was scheduled for Friday, McCormack said.
Similar breaches involving public officials have happened in the past.
During the 1992 presidential campaign, officials in the administration of President George H.W. Bush searched the State Department files of then-Democratic nominee Bill Clinton. An inspector general’s report called the search improper and said it was aimed at finding material that would be damaging to Clinton’s campaign.
After a three-year investigation costing $2.2 million, independent counsel Joseph diGenova concluded in a separate report in 1995 that some of the actions investigated had been “stupid, dumb and partisan” but not criminal.
At the time of the searches, which took place Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 1992, Republicans were criticizing Clinton for anti-Vietnam War activities when he was a student at Oxford University in England in 1969-70. Officials looked into the passport files after rumors sparked freedom of information requests from the news media and a Republican congressman, but later discovered that privacy laws would bar their disclosure, the diGenova report said.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady who is challenging Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, said of the breach: “It’s outrageous and the Bush administration has to get to the bottom of it.”