On-the-Record Briefing on Unauthorized Accessed Passport RecordsPatrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management
Spokesman Sean McCormack
Via Teleconference Call
March 20, 2008
OPERATOR: Good afternoon and evening. Thank you all for standing by. All participants are in a listen-only mode. After the presentation, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. To ask a question, you'll be asked to press *1 and record your name. Today's conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.
I'll now turn the meeting over to Mr. Sean McCormack. Sir, you may begin.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, thanks for joining us, everybody. I'm going to run through a few points at the top -- these are factual points for you -- about unauthorized access in three separate incidents to Senator Obama's passport records. I have here on the call with me Pat Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management who will also be able to jump in whenever he feels appropriate, and maybe add some details. Let me start off, and then we can get to your questions.
On three different dates -- January 9th, February 21st and March 14th -- the State Department discovered that three different contractor employees working in three separate locations had accessed passport records of Senator Obama without a need to do so. In each case, we immediately contacted their contract employer, who immediately disciplined the employees. In two of the three cases, the employees were immediately terminated. The other -- in the other case, the contract employee was disciplined, but at this time remains employed by the contractor.
The State Department has strict policies and controls on access to passport records by government and contract employees. Rules restricting access to passport records are well known to all employees and they are in integral part of the training on the use of the system. Each time an employee logs onto the system, he/she acknowledges that the records are protected by the Privacy Act and that they are only available on a need-to-know basis.
One thing I want to emphasize, in each of these three cases, the system that was set up to detect any unauthorized access of these kinds of records worked. These unauthorized accesses were detected by the State Department and they were immediately acted upon. In each of these cases, the unauthorized access was caught by a monitoring system that was tripped when, in each of these cases, an employee accessed the record of a high-profile individual. When the monitoring system is tripped, we immediately seek an explanation for the record access. If the explanation is not satisfactory, the supervisor is notified. And that is the case in each of these three individual cases.
At this point in time, it's our initial view that this was imprudent curiosity on the part of these three separate individuals. However, we are taking immediate steps to assure ourselves, to be able to assure ourselves, that it is, in fact, nothing more than imprudent curiosity on the part of these three individual and separate employees.
Pat, do you have anything that you want to add at this point?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: No, I think, Sean, that you've outlined it well.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Operator, why don't we go ahead and open it up to questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you, sir. We'll now begin a question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1, un-mute your phone and record your name clearly when prompted. Your name is required to introduce your question. To withdraw your request, it is *2. Again, *1 and record your name.
Our first question will come from Arshad Mohammed. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Hi, it's Arshad Mohammed of Reuters.
MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: A couple things. One, why is it possible for three different contract employees in three different locations to, at will, access the passport records of sort of high-profile people like this?
Two -- question number two, what kind of information is available in the passport records? Is it simply passport applications or does it include anything else?
And three, are you aware of the three contract employees having done anything with the information that they got? Did they give it to anyone else? Did they use it for any purpose?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, Pat. You can take the first stab at those.
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Certainly. As you can imagine, when one issues 18 million passports a year, passports get lost, people need to know where their application may be in the file. People also apply for renewals, which have to be cross-checked back to a previous application because, as you know, you can apply for renewal by mail. There is a wide variety of functions that are performed in a computerized basis but which require human intervention and checking. We have a very strict system. Every time an employee logs on, they've got to -- they get a screen warning that says, you know, this is Privacy Act protected information, only use for official purposes. And so we -- in order to deal with 18 million passports a year, we require lots of people to have access because it's compartmentalized in the sense that different people perform different functions, including recording if someone advises that their passport has been lost or stolen, so that requires you go to in and make notifications.
We are -- since we've learned of this, we are now checking to make sure exactly what information was in the files that were accessed, and so I don't want to say that it included anything more than applications, but that is usually what would be in the file.
And did they do anything with it? That is a matter that we are having investigated. We do -- you know, we have no reason to believe they did, but it is something that I am not going to be dismissive of. It is something that is worth following up on, and we will.
QUESTION: Pat, can I ask you one follow-up on that? Is it a violation of federal law to access such records?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I have -- there are Privacy Act protections that are in place, and our lawyers are reviewing that and will give me an opinion in the morning.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Janine Zacharia. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Hi, it's Janine with Bloomberg. I'm sorry, Sean, we were sent the email very late. If you could -- I just wanted to ask if you could just read the top of what you said because I sort of just missed the first -- the very beginning of these three contract employers and what happened to them and what they did.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, very quickly. On three separate occasions -- January 9th, February 21st and March 14th -- the State Department discovered that three separate and different contract employees working in different locations had accessed the passport records of Senator Obama without the need to do so. In each case, we immediately contacted their contractor employer, who immediately disciplined the employees. In two cases, the employees were immediately terminated. In the other case, the employee was disciplined but at this time still remains with the contractor.
QUESTION: And you didn't explain what these locations were?
MR. MCCORMACK: They're -- no, they're three separate locations. And, Pat, I don't know if you can offer any insight to that in general terms.
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: No, they're just three separate offices within the passport -- within our passport system, which I said has lots of offices and services many different functions, producing 18 million passports a year.
QUESTION: And I'm sorry -- it was January 9th, February 17th and March 14th?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Roger, yes.
MR. MCCORMACK: January 9th, February 21st and March 14th.
QUESTION: Sorry, thanks.
MR. MCCORMACK: And let me add one other quick note here. I assume that this question will come up. We briefed Senator Obama's office on this issue this afternoon. That was when senior management of the State Department first became aware of these incidents. We immediately acted to brief his office. And Pat, Pat Kennedy, is going up to brief Senator Obama's office up on the Hill tomorrow afternoon.
We can get to the next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Geoff Earle. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Yeah, this is Geoff Earle with the New York Post. What can you tell me about the nature of any background checks that these contract employees had to go through? And are you -- is the Department undertaking efforts to find out what it can about their backgrounds? Specifically, do these guys have any sort of political affiliations or are they political hands? What were their prior jobs and what -- you know, to try to establish whether they're likely to be doing this for more than the curiosity you're talking about.
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: We run what are called public integrity checks, which is a kind of police and name check that is standard. Public integrity checks is a type of check done by U.S. Government agencies for people who would be handling sensitive but non-classified information. We certainly do not, as part of our background checks, ever inquire into the political affiliations of individuals. That would be inappropriate.
But going back to what I said in response to the question from Reuters, the first question, we are looking at the issue of if there is anything more to why these people did this other than inappropriate curiosity.
QUESTION: And that's through an internal -- is it an investigation or a review, and who's conducting it and will they, you know, report to the public in some fashion?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: We will be asking the Inspector General of the State Department to conduct the review.
OPERATOR: (Inaudible) Margaret Talev, please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Hi, it's Margaret Talev with McClatchy Newspapers. I'm guessing you're not going to release the names since you haven't yet, but I thought I'd ask. Are you releasing the names of any of these three contractors or the companies for which they were contracting on behalf of the State Department? And I guess that's about it.
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: In a word, no. Not at this time.
MR. MCCORMACK: We have an -- this is -- as Pat said, there's an investigation aspect to this so we want that to be able to proceed in as clear a manner as it possibly can.
QUESTION: So at this point, you haven't been able to determine whether -- again, whether they were also working or had worked on behalf of a political party or a campaign or anything like that? We just don't know yet, or you're not saying yet?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: When we do background checks, we do not look into the -- it would be inappropriate to look into the political affiliation of individuals. We conduct, as I said, the public integrity checks. But now that this has arisen, this becomes a germane question and that will be looked in, and that will be something for the appropriate investigative authority to look into; i.e., the purpose of why they did this.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Christopher Cooper . Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Chris Cooper, Wall Street Journal. Hey fellows, what's the difference between the cases of the two fired guys and the case of the disciplined guy?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: This -- since this was brought to my attention this afternoon, I am delving into that question.
QUESTION: So you don't know?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I am delving into the question.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Kerry Sheridan. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Hi, this is Kerry Sheridan from Agence France Presse. Gentlemen, I'm sorry, I came onto the call late. Could you identify yourselves and also, if I could ask, what -- I understand it may have been asked before, but what exactly would these people have seen when they looked at the file?
MR. MCCORMACK: To start off with, I'm Sean McCormack and this is -- my running mate here is Pat Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Ms. Sheridan, that is one of the things that we are reviewing now to see exactly which files -- which file they may have looked at. I do not want to give you that answer -- an answer now because I have to be absolutely sure of what I would say. But certainly, these are the kind -- what you would normally find in this would be an application for a passport.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Warren Strobel. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Hi, Warren Strobel also with McClatchy Newspapers. This question is more for Pat. I vaguely remember there was an issue like this or an incident like this that happened before. Perhaps it was at the end of the Bush Administration -- Bush 41 Administration or the Reagan Administration. Can you help my historical memory here in terms of inappropriate looking at passport records of a well-known figure?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: There was an incident that occurred back in -- it would have been 19 --
MR. MCCORMACK: There's plenty of public records on this one. You can go back and check it yourself.
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: '92, Warren. I think the best thing would be to google it rather than me try to reconstruct from my memory.
QUESTION: Well, let me follow up. Are there any similarities between the two cases that you've seen in terms of what you know now?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: On the basis of what I know now, none whatsoever.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
OPERATOR: (Inaudible) Charlie Wolfson. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Yes, Charlie Wolfson, CBS. Sean and Pat, I understand why you don't want to release the names of the individuals. Why can't you tell us the names of the three companies? Can you also tell us how many contract companies employ how many contract employees in the work of doing passports?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Charlie, there are only two companies involved, not three. There were two employees of one company and one employee of the other. We're not yet releasing the names, and I can get you tomorrow the number of passport -- the number of contractors that are employed by the passport part of the State Department. But it is in the several thousand category.
QUESTION: All right, and another question. Sean in his opening remarks said that at first -- at your first glance, it looked like it was nothing more than curiosity, imprudent curiosity, I believe is the phrase. On what basis do you draw that conclusion, Sean, that it was only imprudent curiosity?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in one case -- Pat, correct me if I'm wrong -- we have an initial explanation from one of the individuals and -- that leads us to that conclusion. Again, we want to assure ourselves that it is nothing more than that. And in the other two instances, some of the sketchy facts as we have them right now would indicate that it is -- that there isn't anything more to it than that. But again, I don't want to be dismissive of the possibility that it is something other than that, which is exactly why Pat took some immediate steps today to make sure that it is nothing more than that and that we can assure ourselves as well as Senator Obama's office that it is nothing more than that.
QUESTION: Has anybody spoken to Senator Obama himself from the State Department?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: No, we have briefed his staff, and his staff has asked us to come up tomorrow for a more full briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Michael Isikoff, please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Newsweek Magazine. Yeah, I am -- (inaudible) took place on January 9th, and I think, Mr. Kennedy, you said you just learned about this today, yet these two employees -- or two of the employees were fired (inaudible). When did the State Department first learn about it? Why were you first told about this today, and when was the explanation given and to whom (inaudible) seem to (inaudible) more than imprudent curiosity?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Sean, the question was very, very garbled and broken up. I mean, I'm talking electronically, not linguistically.
QUESTION: Okay, I'm sorry --
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: But I think what you asked was why did we only find out about it today and shouldn't we have known if we would -- if they were employees being fired.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, what I said was senior management of the Department found out about it today.
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Right. First of all, these were employees -- all of these involved employees of contractors rather than U.S. Government employees, and it -- I will fully acknowledge that this information should have been passed up the line. It was dealt with at the office level where the incidents occurred by the office-level supervisors, who took immediate steps when they saw this. As Sean mentioned earlier, we have a very, very sophisticated computer tracking system that looks out for and looks out over the use of the computer, and when it sees anything that is potentially inappropriate, the computer calls it to the attention of the working-level supervisor. The system worked; it was called to their attention. They acted and -- but I will admit, they failed to pass the information up the chain to a sufficiently high level.
QUESTION: Which offices didn't pass the information up the line?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: At three working-level offices within the passport office.
QUESTION: Why were you first told today?
MR. MCCORMACK: I was -- I first found out about this incident from a reporter who had a question who called me -- who emailed me with a question.
QUESTION: And when did the employee -- the contractor give the explanation that it was -- that led you conclude that it was (inaudible) to whom?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sorry, Mike. Your question broke up completely.
QUESTION: When -- you said one contractor said -- gave an explanation that suggested it was no more than imprudent curiosity. To whom did that contractor give that -- employee give that explanation, and when?
MR. MCCORMACK: Pat?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: My understanding is that when we found -- you know, that when I launched a query after receiving Sean's question, the senior -- the senior management of the Bureau of Consular Affairs delved down into the working level to find out, and in -- I said I need all the information that you may or may not have on this. And that -- and so the supervisor reported -- as I understand it, the supervisor reported up what the contractor employee had said to the working-level supervisor.
MR. MCCORMACK: And that was at the time of the incident, Pat?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I understand yes.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Andrea Mitchell. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Hi, it's Andrea Mitchell, NBC News. Sean and Pat, a couple of things. First of all, the IG does not have legal authority, according to the lawyers we've talked to, over anyone who was fired. So who is going to investigate the people who were fired? Is there a preliminary Justice Department or FBI investigation? Has it been turned over to anybody who can have any jurisdiction over these two people? And how -- I don't understand either the lag time or how you know that it was just imprudent curiosity if there's not been a real investigation and the IG did not know about it until today.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, let me address the curiosity point. I was asked this question, Andrea, and that's -- and as an initial take, and that was our -- that is our initial take on the matter. And as I said, we are not being dismissive of any other possibility, which is exactly why Pat took the step to launch an IG investigation today. And I'll let him talk about what he knows about the legal --
QUESTION: Well, Joe diGenova, who did the investigation in '92 --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- says that the IG has no jurisdiction over anybody who's been fired, and so I don't see how that can -- they can't be interviewed, they can't be forced to give any kind of deposition. So doesn't this have to be pursued at a Justice Department level?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Andrea, we don't know that they're going to decline to talk to the Inspector General. That assumes that they decline to talk. And we have to take this on a quick march, but step-by-step basis. And the initial State Department -- the investigation that was done by the State Department into a passport incident a decade or so ago, that initial investigation was done by the State Department IG.
QUESTION: And then, of course, then an independent counsel.
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Well, but I think that makes my point --
QUESTION: You're saying the initial stage --
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: You take a step-by-step methodical process.
QUESTION: And was there any consideration given to a call being made at a higher level to either Senator Obama or his chief of staff?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: We reached out to the highest-ranking person that we could find in the Senator's Washington office, and that is who was spoken to.
MR. MCCORMACK: And we have every confidence that the information that we conveyed to the Senator's office was conveyed to Senator Obama's people as they saw fit.
OPERATOR: Glenn Kessler, your line is open. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Yes, Glenn Kessler with The Washington Post. I missed part of this call, because I got kind of a late email. So, I just want to clarify a few things. First of all, is it correct, Sean, the way that the State Department found out about this whole thing was because you got a call from a reporter?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no, no, no, no. First of all, Glenn, there's a transcript. So you can go back and check the transcript once it's issued.
QUESTION: Okay, but I -- it sounded like -
MR. MCCORMACK: Senior management of the Department first became aware of this today.
QUESTION: Became aware, and how did they become aware of it?
MR. MCCORMACK: And I first became aware of it when I received an inquiry from a reporter.
QUESTION: Okay, and how did Pat become aware of it?
MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?
QUESTION: How did Pat become aware of it today?
MR. MCCORMACK: Pat? I talked to Pat.
QUESTION: So, in other words, the way senior management found out about this was because a reporter called you, not because someone thought to "send this information up the line." Is that correct?
MR. MCCORMACK: And as Pat -- and you can check your transcript, Glenn -- as Pat just said, that information should have been passed up the line. You are absolutely right.
QUESTION: Right. No, I heard that. I just wanted to make sure I understood correctly, that the way that -- now, secondly, do contract employees generally have access to such private information as passport applications? Is there some -- is there any kind of system there that says they should not be able to access, if you are a contract employee, they should not be able to access the private information of passport applications?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: This is Pat. Certain contractor employees perform support functions that do require them to have access to applications in order to do the tasks that are assigned to them. Not every contract employee has a computer logon, but those who perform certain functions, yes, they require access to the system. But in order to make sure that people adhere to the rules, this is why we have the monitoring system that we have on the use of the computer.
QUESTION: I see. So these were employees that did have -- each of these three employees did have permission under current State Department rules, that would allow them to have access to this private information?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: To certain -- for, you know, they were supposed to use their access to -- for the purposes of the task that they were assigned. They violated that trust, and that is - and they were caught in the monitoring system that we have. When you produce, as I said earlier, when you produce 18 million passports a year and there are numbers of passports that are lost every year, people call in and ask, "Where is my passport in the system?" I mean, i.e. when you're applying for a renewal or some -- or a change of name or additional pages or whatever, those -- that support is -- does not involve an inherently governmental function, such as the actual adjudication of the passport application to ensure that you are the American citizen who you claim to be.
QUESTION: Right, so in other words, these were -- were all three of these people like customer service types that would have that access?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: They were in a variety of functions that required them, in order to do their tasks, to have the access to the computer system.
QUESTION: And what were the functions these three people had?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: They were -- because there is ongoing review here, I'm not going to give out any specific details.
QUESTION: I see. So, but, they were -- all three of them, under their contracts, did have permission to access applications. It's just that they shouldn't have accessed the application that was not, somehow, on their radar screen?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: They have access to the machine, to perform specific functions which require access to the database. And, then, if they are doing this and they are working on a certain case, they then are supposed to go in and get the information they need on that specific case and take the appropriate action. They are not supposed to go and look at the files of other people, and that is why the computer caught them.
QUESTION: Right. And this computer system, when was that put in place?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: It's been in place for several years.
QUESTION: Well, can you give a date?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I don't have that in front of me, no.
QUESTION: But was this done in response to the incident involving Clinton or was this completely separate?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: No, this is part of a computer upgrade several years ago as we continually upgrade our computer capabilities in order to produce, as you know, 18 million passports last year, when there were only 12 million passports the year before.
QUESTION: Right, right. And when was the Secretary briefed on this?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: This afternoon.
QUESTION: And what was her response to it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not going to characterize it exactly, Glenn. But I think a couple of points stand out. One, she asked Pat a lot of questions about the system and the fact - there was an assessment that the system worked. And two, she wanted to make sure that we did a full investigation of the matter.
QUESTION: Okay, and just lastly, are you certain at this point that these three individuals did not take this information that they found out, whatever was there, in Barack Obama's application, they did not take this information and disclose it to anyone else?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: That is one of the things, obviously, we are investigating. I have no reason to believe they did, but I am certainly not going to be dismissive of what is a serious and valid question.
QUESTION: All right, but thus far, from what you know so far, you don't have any reason to believe that they disclosed it to anyone else?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: One the basis of fast work this afternoon, no. But I am not -- also not -- I am not staking out a position that it could not have happened. But I'm not saying it did either.
QUESTION: And do you have a deadline for when think that you would get these answers?
MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) Glenn, (inaudible) let some other folks have a shot here. What's your last question, Glenn? We need to move on and give other folks a shot here.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. The -- do you have a -- are you focused on the deadline, when you'll be able to answer these questions? I mean, this particular thing.
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: As soon as possible.
QUESTION: I see. And just, lastly, as part of your investigation, are you checking the hard drives of these employees? Are you checking their email communications?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: That will be done by the appropriate investigative bodies.
QUESTION: Right, but you've requested that they do that?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I don't tell professional investigators how to do their job.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, let's get another few questioners in here.
OPERATOR: Okay, our next question comes from David Shuster. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Yes, with MSNBC. I'm just wondering again if you can clarify what exactly the Inspector General, or the Acting Inspector General, has been told and what steps, if any, he has taken so far today to secure --
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I'm not -- I don't know. We're reaching out to him. It's up to him to take whatever steps he deems appropriate.
QUESTION: But do you know if he has asked, for example, or if anybody has asked to either to sort of hold on to records or to hold on to any notes that had been made by the office supervisors?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I have talked to the legal division in the State Department and we are ensuring that records are protected.
QUESTION: Okay. And just one thing, just to clarify. Just so we're clear. When you say that you believe that this was simply in prurient interest or curiosity, imprudent curiosity, I just want to clarify, that is based, though, solely, on the representations made by these contractors to their immediate office supervisors, correct?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's our initial take, based on the information that we have at hand right now. But again, emphasize -
QUESTION: But again, that's coming from the immediate office supervisors only, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: In the one incidence that I talked about, where we did -- we were actually able to reach down, talk to the office supervisor, and get an account of what this contract employee told the supervisor.
QUESTION: Okay, but again, this is, again, based solely on the office supervisors, not based on anything that Mr. Kennedy has -- any interviews he's done or anything that Mr. Todd has done or any other investigators?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I am not going to be conducting interviews of the individuals involved because that would be inappropriate.
QUESTION: Fair enough. I understand. But I -- fair enough, but I want to make sure we're absolutely clear that, again this is based on solely on the representation, the information provided only by office supervisors, regardless of whatever information they collected directly from these contractors?
QUESTION: Is that fair?
MR. MCCORMACK: Correct. Fair enough.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Angela Gunn, please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Hi. Angela Gunn, ComputerWorld.com. Two points of clarification, please. Is the third person, the one who has not been fired, was disciplined, is that person still doing work for State? And, secondly, can you give us the geographic location of the offices affected?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: He is still working at State and no, at this point I'm not going to disclose the geographic locations.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, let's take two more questions.
OPERATOR: Okay, our next question will come from Arshad Mohammed. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Yes, Arshad Mohammed of Reuters, again. I am still perplexed about the fact that the first instance took place back in January and that there was no system in place to alert more senior officials in the State Department and that there was no system in place to prevent similar unauthorized access to a prominent person's records. I mean, if it is in the State Department's interest to have a computer system that will alert you when a high-profile person's passports records have been accessed, why isn't there a system in place to (inaudible) happening again to that person?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: That is a question that obviously, as we review this, we'll have to see if it is possible to do lock-outs and still make it -- still enable us to be responsive to people's inquiries. But that's why we have a complex monitoring system in place, to protect people's privacy.
QUESTION: And, Pat, just can I ask one other follow-up? I didn't -- when I asked you the question earlier about whether any laws were violated here, am I correct in understanding that you just don't know and you've asked your lawyers to try to figure out whether --
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Since we don't -- we are gathering information to make sure we know -- we know some things happened. We're gathering more information to make sure we know exactly how and what happened, and then that trips the -- that then informs the legal office, and they are researching this, and I will be meeting with them in the morning.
QUESTION: But the mere fact of improperly accessing a person's passport records, is not itself a legal (inaudible).
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that I am not a lawyer and therefore I seek legal advice when I'm faced with a tough question like this.
QUESTION: Fair enough. And will you, yourself, be briefing Senator Obama's staff tomorrow?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Yes.
QUESTION: And will that be here in Washington, or somewhere else?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: In Washington.
QUESTION: Okay, and in person, I presume?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Yes.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, let's make this the last question.
OPERATOR: Patrick Thibodeau, please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Computer World Magazine. Thanks. I wanted to get some -- a little more detail, on what triggered the monitoring system in this case. In other words, you have 18 million records, and I presume, many people, perhaps thousands -- tell me if I'm wrong -- have access to those records. So if someone goes and looks at those records and they're not authorized to do so, but the same parameters that triggered access, or triggered a warning, in the case of the Senator's passport, would it also work, say in my case, or any other individuals? Were there any special parameters in place for his records? How does that work?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: We -- there are -- and I am not a computer expert, and you maybe are, given who you write for -- but there are, what the computer people call flags. We put flags on certain records that, in order -- that trigger a report to the supervisor that a record has been accessed.
QUESTION: And so then they add --
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Not every one of the 18 million records is flagged, no. But there are also other patterns and activities that the Bureau of Consular Affairs uses as well.
QUESTION: And so the supervisor, then, makes a determination if that flagging was --
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: If the person had a need to act in that case. I mean, if they -- if someone accessed an individual and they would be asked, "Why did you do that?" Well, because the individual has reported their passport lost or stolen, therefore I'm entering it into the record.
QUESTION: And who decides who gets flagged?
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The Bureau of Consular Affairs.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right, everybody. Thanks very much for your time.
OPERATOR: Thank you. This will conclude tonight's call.
Released on March 21, 2008