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Much Ado About Nosing

There was a hefty kerfuffle last week when it came out that some State Department contractors had been snooping around in Barack Obama's passport records. The accusations of political dirty tricks started flying fast and furious.

Then it came out that Hillary Clinton's passport records, too, had been poked into. That intensified things; was this the hand of Karl Rove, reaching from beyond the political grave, to bring down his enemies?

Then it turns out that John McCain's passport records were also pawed over. There, we scored a trifecta.

My first response was "SWF?"

Back in 1990, my then-girlriend got a temp job with the Census Bureau. She boasted that she had seen the census forms for some very prominent New Hampshire figures.

"Really?" I asked her.

"Yup. And I'm not going to tell you a single thing that was on them."

(She was that way at times. Most times, now that I think about it. Could be part of the reason I refer to her as "my then girlfriend.")

Curiosity is an incredibly human trait. Who among us hasn't Googled ourselves or a long-lost acquaintance or loved one? Gone through The Smoking Gun web site and reveled in the travails of the famous (and the stupid, for that matter)? We have whole magazines, TV shows, and web sites dedicated to finding out every single detail about the rich and famous. (Of course, we here at Wizbang are above that sort of thing.)

Here's my theory on what happened, based no more on the few details that have come out and my own understanding of human nature:

A couple of contractors for the State Department discovered that their clearances for their assignments gave them access to a bit more data than they strictly needed to see. Out of curiosity, they started poking around and looking for info on famous people. This being the Washington area and they working for the government, they chose political celebrities -- the three leading candidates for president, and wanted to see if they could access their records. To their suprise, they did.

Then they got caught. Two were fired, the third was given some vague less-than-firing "discipline."

What they did was wrong, was stupid, and I wouldn't mind in the least if they were all fired and their employer was banned from working for the State Department for a while. But I sincerely doubt this was some grand conspiracy.

For one, all three candidates' records were accessed. This could be a blind, to protect whose candidacy was being pushed and who was the real target, but the simplest explanation is that it was plain old-fashioned nosiness.

For another, I have a hard time believing that the Bush administration was behind it. Remember the lessons of Watergate -- the burglars were NOT hung out to dry, they were told that their silence would buy security for them and their families. In this case, the 'burglars" -- the snoopers -- were hung out to dry. They have no reason in the world to protect their masters, and indeed a great deal to gain by ratting them out.

For a third, I have to wonder what sort of potential dirt would turn up in a passport record. I don't happen to have one, but from what I understand, all that would be revealed in a passport record is a bunch of personally identifying information and records of when and where the passport holder crossed international borders. The first half is great if you're looking to commit identity theft; the latter if you're trying to establish a criminal conspiracy. But for plain old political dirt, there have to be better sources of information.

Especially in Hillary Clinton's case. She's been a public figure on the federal level for almost 16 years; her travels are public record, and thoroughly documented (if not always publicly accessible, as we've seen recently.)

Fourth, if you're trying to establish ties between a candidate and some international conspiracy, wouldn't the conspirators be a little more cunning than to have the candidate travel openly, under their own passport? To me, any decent conspiracy big enough to rope in a United States Senator ought to have the resources to either fake up a passport or smuggle the conspirators into and out of countries without having to trouble with Customs.

However, the most troubling aspect of this story is getting remarkably little play. Two of the leading candidates want to make the federal government intimately involved in the health care of every single American. Who knows how many government bureaucrats (or independent contractors, as in this case) will have access to our medical records once that goes through? Toss in one of those candidates' prior-demonstrated attitude towards confidential government documents, and it's a very troubling thought.

"Mr. Tea, we'd like to discuss some of those articles you've been writing of late. By the way, how's that halitosis problem going? And we see you've not refilled your fungus cream in a few months -- that cleared up all right?"

This most likely boils down to a simple case of the "forbidden fruit syndrome" -- they were told to not go snooping around, and were curious just how far they could snoop without getting caught. Then they were caught and disciplined, publicly enough to remind others to not go snooping.


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Comments (19)

"This most likely boils dow... (Below threshold)
COgirl:

"This most likely boils down to a simple case of the "forbidden fruit syndrome" -- they were told to not go snooping around, and were curious just how far they could snoop without getting caught."

That or the Clintons were behind it.

I used to work for IRS in A... (Below threshold)
m c harrison:

I used to work for IRS in Atlanta; when I started training, the first thing they told us was that you could not, NOT, NOT access records unless you had authorization - a letter or written request for tax relief. They had just fired an employee - and suffered major embarrassment - because a star-struck employee had requested returns for Liz Taylor, Kenny Rogers, Sean Connery...Curiosity can be lethal.

I was watching Dan Abrams s... (Below threshold)
Jo:

I was watching Dan Abrams show the night it happened and he had on the crazy David Schuster and you could tell they were all excited thinking they had something they could dwell on for weeks making a lot of pity for Obama, and looking for a conspiracy on...Bush!

When it became known it happened to Clinton & McCain I'm sure they were sorely disappointed.

Sorry, this is an intolerab... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

Sorry, this is an intolerable abuse. The frequency at which it probably happens in multiple places doesn't excuse it.

When someone gets railroaded by a frivolous lawsuit or a prosecutor that just knows you have to be guilty and doesn't have time to do the proper legwork, one quick way out of those accusations is being able to whip out proof that you were out of town during x or late at work during y. However, if that stuff can be checked out before the accusation is made and do it'off the books' then a good story can be crafted for which your first line of defense, an alibi, will be subverted.

If they can establish it was purely curiosity, then perhaps you give them probation. They still lose their jobs.

The SSAN was the only piece... (Below threshold)
Scrapiron:

The SSAN was the only piece of information on a passport record that you can't find out from any public source. The holier than thou (JPM100) crowd would be in the computer records in a flash. Maybe not to use any information but out of 'what was that that killed the cat'? It's human nature. If the information was important it would be classified, this was not. It's just so much BS that the racist Hussein 'O' nuts thought they had a lock on to get the camera off his racism. Too bad, or good, that they looked at other records. No laws were actually broken, only office policies. MOVE ON and try to find something else to alibi Hussein.

Your first response was Sin... (Below threshold)

Your first response was Single White Female?
I was expecting SFW actually.

Washington Times, which fir... (Below threshold)
sam:

Washington Times, which first broke the story on Thursday, is also reporting that one of the three contractors is an employee of TAC (The analysis Company) headed by John Brennan, intelligence and security adviser to the Obama campaign. This is getting curioser.

CAMP OBAMA IS 'DIRTIEST OF ... (Below threshold)
MJN0:

CAMP OBAMA IS 'DIRTIEST OF THEM ALL.' They started the race card in South Carolina and with Bill, then it came back to "bite" them, then...they try to take the heat off with the passport breach. Hillary will be the nominee!

http://www.subchat.com/otchat/read.asp?Id=300912

A little off subject, but I... (Below threshold)
jan:

A little off subject, but I hope Richardson and obama have a happy life together. they are cut from the same cloth-no loyalty to the "hand that fed them"

NOW IT LOOKS LIKE OBAMA HAS... (Below threshold)
DOUGLAS K. SHARP:

NOW IT LOOKS LIKE OBAMA HAS A SUPPORTER DIRECTLY CONNECTED WITH THE PASSPORT-GATE.

These contractors were caug... (Below threshold)

These contractors were caught because someone at State decided to CHECK and see if any of the candidates' files had been accessed. I'll bet if they ran a check on the files of Britney Spears, Simon Cowell, George Clooney, etc., they would find the curious had also peeked at those, and others.

There really isn't any "private" information in the passport file, as Scrappy notes. Your application has basic information available from public sources anyway. The only other info in there is the date of application, date issued, and dates renewed. They don't even have travel records in the things.

But, if it allowed the media to stop talking about Obama and his white-hating, Jew-hating, America-hating, Farrakhan-loving, Marxist preacher and church, well, it must be worth it.

It doesn't matter who this ... (Below threshold)
Daniel from Michigan:

It doesn't matter who this guy supports, what he did was unlawful and reprehensible. Although with the Patriot Act, even this is questionable nowadays. Good thing BArack came out questioning this suspicious activity early, otherwise I would say there is reason to speculate.

the press ran with this so ... (Below threshold)
dan:

the press ran with this so hard when it was obama, then it became a has-been story once the other candidates suffered the same fate...perhaps we will be privledged to hear a speach on snooping now...does anyone remember the war or economy?? I swear, if obama stubs his toe on the sidewalk the press will claim clinton or mccain secretly shined a light in his eyes to make him trip....

guess what.The bos... (Below threshold)
Kingssman:

guess what.

The boss of the boss of the snooper is Condi Rice, and the Boss of Condi Rice is George Bush, connected to george bush is Karl Rove whom once attended a charity event with actor and director Mel Gibson who co starred with Julia Roberts in Conspiracy Theory. Julia Roberts also acted in the movie Flat liners with

KEVIN BACON

whom also donated to money to both the Clinton and Obama campaign.

conspiracy? I think not

NOW THAT THE CEO OF THIS CO... (Below threshold)
DOUGLAS K. SHARP:

NOW THAT THE CEO OF THIS COMPANY WAS AN OBAMA SUPPORTER, ADVISER AND CONTRIBUTER, WILL THIS STORY DIE?

These contractors were c... (Below threshold)
Brian:

These contractors were caught because someone at State decided to CHECK and see if any of the candidates' files had been accessed.

Jim, don't you ever get tired of being wrong?

The department's top management officer, Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy, said certain records, including those of high-profile people, are "flagged" with a computer tag that tips off supervisors when someone tries to view the records without a proper reason.
"Who knows how many governm... (Below threshold)
John Anderson Author Profile Page:

"Who knows how many government bureaucrats (or independent contractors, as in this case) will have access to our medical records once that goes through?"

Just about everybody - except the patient.

*"The New Tuskegee"* {unfortunate title, the {prospective} participants in the `infamous` Tuskegee study were informed of its nature and scope]
"Can you be forced to participate in research without your informed consent or without even being notified? The most incredible story, first found buried in an international publication, revealed that Perlegen Sciences, Inc. has made a deal with an unidentified electronic medical records company to give it exclusive rights to the clinical information on 4 million U.S. patients..."
" Unbeknownst to the patients, their records will be turned over to this private company and mined, and for those who are then identified for DNA testing, samples of their genetic material will be obtained by Perlegen by going through patients' doctors, via HIPAA, not the patients. All of this will all be done without the knowledge or permission of patients."

Remember, HIPAA is supposed to protect patient records, not be used as a tool for ever-widening dissemination.

More grabs for private medical records
"... the CDC is funding three large biosurveillance networks, investing $38 million over the next five years. According to Health Data Management, it will facilitate the sharing of private medical records with governmental departments.'

Who knew that employees cou... (Below threshold)
axt113:

Who knew that employees could think for themselves and do things without their bosses permission, don't they all have control chips implanted into them when they get hired, Obama must be behind it, because no one is allowed to act independently in the workforce /sarcasm

WHEN A DEMOCRAT OPERATIVE I... (Below threshold)
DOUGLAS K. SHARP:

WHEN A DEMOCRAT OPERATIVE IS CAUGHT, YOU HEAR NOTHING BUT EXCUSES. WHEN REPUBLICANS ARE CAUGHT EVERYONE ON THE LIBERAL SIDE CALLS FOR THEIR HEADS. MAJORITY OF THE TIME, THEY RESIGN OR HAVE CRIMINAL CHARGES SERVED AGAINT THEM. LET'S SEE HOW THEY GLOSS OVER THIS ONE! FOR LIBERALS, THE SHOE ONLY FITS WHEN THEY WANT IT TOO!




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