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Obama’s Passport Noise

Must be a really slow news day.

WASHINGTON (AP) – [1] The State Department says it is trying to determine whether three contract workers had a political motive for looking at Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s passport file.

Two of the employees were fired for the security breach and the third was disciplined but is still working, the department said Thursday night. It would not release the names of those who were fired and disciplined or the names of the two companies for which they worked. The department’s inspector general is investigating.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that for now it appears that nothing other than “imprudent curiosity” was involved in three separate breaches of the Illinois senator’s personal information, “but we are taking steps to reassure ourselves that that is, in fact, the case.”

It is not clear whether the employees saw anything other than the basic personal data such as name, citizenship, age and place of birth that is required when a person fills out a passport application.

And so, time to make an entire planet out of an anthill. Chris Lawrence at OTB: [2]

More paranoic [3] quarters [4] of the blogosphere have leapt to the conclusion that the lookups represent Republican dirty tricks.

However, given both that the GOP presumably has people in the bureaucracy with access to the records who aren’t low-level contractors doing data-entry work, the timing of the incidents following news events (rather than months or years ago, when any opposition researcher worth his or her salt would be scouting potential targets like Obama), and the fact that any professional dirt-digger would know that searches like these in government databases raise red flags automatically, I strongly suspect that Sean McCormack is right to attribute these actions to “imprudent curiosity” or, as Mark Kleiman suggests [5], lame independent efforts to find some dirty laundry that could be shopped to opposition candidates or the media.

Well, of course those two are going to be leading the charge of the lightly brained…. Cole, particularly.  There’s nothing to this that isn’t explain by youth, and the rock-star status that Obama has otherwise embraced.

Look, let’s ignore that and forget that we’re talking about Obama, and forget political implications for a moment. Let’s postulate we’re talking about a movie star of some sort… a rather popular one. What life-deprived 20 something, working in such an environment, wouldn’t get a kick out of handling such a document? That’s what’s going on here… a brush with stardom.  I suspect that’s why State never bothered informing Obama, who has much larger considerations, just now… and certainly, they wanted to avoid it becoming a political issue.

What evidence do we have that Obama was not a political target? Well, there’s the Washington Times’ Bill Gertz, for one. [6]

Two State Department employees were fired recently and a third disciplined for improperly accessing electronic personal data on Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, Bush administration officials said today.

The officials, all contract workers, used their authorized computer network access to look up files within the department’s consular affairs section, which processes and stores passport information, and read Mr. Obama’s passport application and other records, in violation of department privacy rules, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Note the phrase “And other records”. Translation; Other people’s records were also involved. So, Obama was not a specific target of anything. Meanwhile, Gertz reminds us:

A similar data breach took place in 1992 when State Department officials looked up data on presidential candidate Bill Clinton, in an attempt to find out information from the late 1960s, amid unfounded political campaign rumors that Mr. Clinton had sought to renounce his citizenship to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War while a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.

That incident triggered a three-year investigation by a special prosecutor, who found that no laws were violated but officials exercised poor judgment. The 1992 search of Mr. Clinton’s passport records was part of an effort to speed up Freedom of Information Act requests.

Yeah, well, forgive me that I don’t get overly upset by all this, like Obama does

The Obama campaign denounced the accessing as “an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an Administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years.”
Spokesman Bill 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.”

This response is whacked, and well out of proportion, and just the kind of response you’d expect from a desperate paranoid.

Now, if Obama wanted to complain that his private data was in the hands of the government and in a position for such a breach, he might actually have something.  But of course that would be arguing against the all powerful government that Obama campaigns for. It’s all well and good for any Americans having a passport having their data combed. Put a name and a face on it, though, and Obama;s got a problem.  But he can’t blame it on that, because that would diminish governmental power. It’s much easier and profitable for him to label this a political attack from the Bush administration.

What a crock.