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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 21, 2008

INDEX:

MISCELLANEOUS

Unauthorized Access of Senator Obama’s Passport Records
Unauthorized Access of Senator Clinton and Senator McCain’s Passport Records
Secretary Rice’s Apologies to Those Involved
Ongoing Investigation by Inspector General / System Worked but System Not Perfect
Process Worked at Working Level But Senior Management Needs to be Made Aware
Timeline of Incidents
Contents of Passport Files / Applications
Handful of Unauthorized Cases a Year
System of Flagging High Profile Files
Status of Individual Who Has Not been Terminated
Department of Justice’s Involvement
Number of Contract Employees in Office of Passport Services
Background Checks for Contract Employees
Question of Whether Laws Were Broken
Rules Are Explicit for Department Employees with Access to Records
No Indication at This Point That Information Was Disseminated / Investigation
Possible Additional Disciplinary Actions / Investigation
Investigation Will Look at Possible Systemic Issues
Congressional Inquires

TAIWAN

U.S. Policy On Taiwan Joining the United Nations / Referendum

GEORGIA / RUSSIA

U.S. Policy on Independence for Abkhazia & South Ossetia
U.S. Supports Territorial Integrity of Georgia

FRANCE

Reaction to President Sarkozy Calling for Halt to Weapons Tests

MISCELLANEOUS

Usama bin Laden Video Tape Calling for Holy War

CYPRUS

Resumption of Reunification Talks


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:12 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Before I get to your questions, I wanted to provide a little bit of a recap and a little bit of an update on where we are with respect to the questions surrounding unauthorized access of Senator Obama's passport file.

Just to do a little bit of a recap, in case you missed the Secretary's words upstairs, she reached out to Senator Obama to say that she was sorry that this had happened, that there were these unauthorized accesses to his passport file. She assured the Senator that we took this seriously and that we were going to do a thorough investigation as well as to take steps to do the - try to ensure that this kind of unauthorized access doesn't happen in the future.

Now, a little bit of an update on where we are. We had talked earlier this morning about our doing a search to see whether or not there were any other unauthorized accesses of any of the other remaining presidential candidates, and our searches turned up two: one incident this past summer where there was a trainee in the Passport Office who had an unauthorized access of Senator Clinton's passport file. The context in which this happened was that last summer, when we were training new people to come online to help work through that backlog of passports that we had, we brought somebody online. Usually, in these training circumstances, people are encouraged to enter a family member's name just for training purposes. This person chose to enter Senator Clinton's name. It was immediately recognized. They were immediately admonished, and it didn't happen again.

Now, in the case of Senator McCain, we detected earlier this year - I don't have the exact date for you - one of the same people who accessed Senator Obama's passport file also accessed Senator McCain's passport file. This is the same individual who was disciplined but, at this point in time, still remains working with the contractor. So we are reviewing our options with respect to that person and his employment status.

Currently, Pat Kennedy as well as some other State Department officials are up on the Hill now briefing Senators Obama, Clinton and McCain's staffs on these incidents. Secretary Rice has, as I said, spoken with Senator Obama. She has also spoken with Senator Clinton. And shortly here, she will be speaking with Senator McCain, who is currently in Paris. So that's the update of where we stand and I'd be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Two things, if I may. One, did she apologize to Senator Clinton? Do you expect her to apologize also to Senator McCain? And secondly, have you expanded your investigation to include not merely the remaining presidential candidates, but indeed, all of the other presidential candidates who may have dropped out and whose privacy may also have been violated?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Secretary Rice expressed the same sentiments to Senator Clinton. I would expect that she would say the same thing to Senator McCain. We're sorry that this happened and sorry - and that we take it very seriously. We're going to do a full investigation and that investigation is going to be led by our Inspector General here in the Department of State.

Our Acting Inspector General is going to be supervising the investigation. The direct lead on the investigation is going to be led by our Director of the Investigations Branch. This is somebody who has just recently retired from the Secret - U.S. Secret Service as a special agent who has years and years of experience in investigative work. The Secretary has made it clear, through Pat Kennedy to them, that this is top priority. There's nothing else that's more important than to make sure and go through and do this investigation.

Now, you bring up a good point. They are going to take a look at these particular unauthorized accesses that we have talked about now in the case of these three presidential candidates. But they are also going to take a look at whether or not there are any systemic issues that need to be addressed. And in the course of doing that, if they come across any other incidents, of course, they are going to report those. And if there is any action that needs to be taken as a result of any information that they may uncover in the course of that investigation, absolutely, they are going to act on it.

And one other thing that's important to note. The Secretary has made a commitment that once we're completed with this investigation, the results of the investigation are going to be handed over and made available to all of our oversight committees up on the Hill, and that includes Congressman Waxman's committee. So we are in the mode here of being as transparent and open as we possibly can. I think the Secretary, you know, expressed everybody's sentiments here. 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. It is -- there's a trust relationship there when somebody hands over a passport application or any other sort of application to the U.S. Government. We take that trust very seriously. And we try to put in place sophisticated and elaborate safeguards to make sure that if people break the rules -- and we don't want to see them break the rules, but if people break the rules, that that's detected and that we can act to punish those people. And that holds not only for notable personalities such as presidential candidates or any other notable people in American society, but for every citizen. The controls may be a little bit different and I'm not going to get into how we monitor the activities and access to these people's files, because to do so would really only be to -- would only serve to tip people off to how we monitor the accesses.

But it's an important point because I know a lot of people are watching this story, they're interested in the story, and I understand why. But people should know that our vigilance applies not just to VIPs, notable personalities. The same kind of vigilance applies to every other passport application that we handle.

QUESTION: Can I follow up? Just - I didn't understand one thing. You said you're going to take a look -- a systemic -- you were going to take a look to see if there is a systemic issue.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, are you going to specifically look at both - all the other presidential candidates and, indeed, all the people that you designate as high-profile people to make sure that this hasn't happened to them?

And then the other thing is this morning you said, and last night in the call you said the system worked. Do you believe that the system worked when the system was not able to prevent the multiple accesses, unauthorized accesses to one presidential candidate and now the access -- unauthorized access to two others? Do you still feel like the system worked?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I do feel like the system worked and we do feel like the system worked, but the system isn't perfect. And what you do in these kinds of circumstances is you learn. And what we have learned here is that for some reason, there was -- people at the working level did the right things. They confronted these employees who had accessed these files in an unauthorized way and they took action. That was the right thing to do and that's by the book.

What didn't happen is that that didn't - the information didn't rise up to senior management levels so that we could be made aware of it. That should have happened. And Pat Kennedy, who is our Under Secretary of Management, has made it clear to everybody involved in this process that he expects that to happen; if there are any future such incidences - and we all hope that there aren't - that he expects, and frankly, the Secretary expects that senior-level management is going to be made aware of these things.

And why is that important? That's important so that people in positions of management responsibility in this Department can take steps that they deem prudent and that they deem right to make sure that you don't have those kinds of multiple incidences. And it's a fair question to ask: Well, if senior management had been notified and you had somebody in a position more senior in the management structure notified of this, could they have taken a decision to perhaps put additional safeguards in place? The answer is yes. And Pat Kennedy is looking at ways in which, in particular, for the three individuals in this case -- Senators Clinton, Obama and McCain -- who have had their files accessed in an unauthorized manner, looking at how we can put in place safeguards so that there is a positive control at a senior management level for anybody who wants to do work on those files.

Now, in doing that, we don't -- we want to make sure that we can do our job and we can do the work that we've been assigned to do. So that's one thing we are going to take a look at system-wide. We have already made it very clear we expect information to flow up, which didn't happen in these cases and we expect it to happen in the future. The Secretary expects it to happen in the future. And the Inspector General will take a look at, you know, any issues -- any other issues that might be identified in the course of their work.

As for your other question about other individuals, let me get back to you. I'm not aware that we have done any other searches, but let me take that question and we'll get back to you.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Why did it take extra time to discover the breaches of Senators Clinton and McCain? Why wasn't that -- why didn't that come up yesterday in the same search?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's worth going back and doing the timeline here. Okay? And it gets -- it plays off the point I just made to Arshad in his question. And that is the information didn't flow up. In fact, we should have known about these unauthorized accesses when they happened -- senior management of the Department. Why? So we could have taken some steps to address it. But it's worth going through the timeline of this particular story.

We first became aware of questions related to these unauthorized accesses yesterday afternoon when a reporter e-mailed me to ask about it. I inquired to Pat Kennedy. He delved into the issue, found the information. As soon as we realized that there were these unauthorized accesses for Senator Obama's passport files, collected the information, we briefed the Secretary, we briefed Senator Obama's staff all before we ever replied to the reporter. Then we replied to the reporter and then we all talked to the rest of you as the questions came in.

While we were doing that yesterday afternoon, we did ask ourselves the question: Were there potentially, since there were these accesses and interest in Senator Obama, presidential candidate, were there any unauthorized accesses of the other remaining presidential candidates? So we immediately took steps to search the records, takes some time. We started that process yesterday. We got the answer this morning. Before I talked about those unauthorized accesses in public with you, we wanted to make sure we briefed the staff. We briefed the staffs and the Secretary also wanted the opportunity to first reach out, as appropriate, to each of the senators.

So that's why it took the time.

QUESTION: Right, but given -

QUESTION: (Inaudible) already knew about McCain and --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I did not.

QUESTION: But given the fact that it involved one staff member in two of the cases, how could that information not -- and who -- we understand there was disciplinary action taken.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How could that not have come to light last night?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. You know, I can't tell you. It could be as simple as one of those things, somebody asks you a direct question about one thing, and they gave you the direct answer about the one thing that you wanted to know about. I don't know the answer to it.

The fact of the matter is we did discover it. And with respect to that person, we are -- I can assure you that person's going to be at the top of the list of the Inspector General when they talk to people. And we are currently reviewing our options with respect to that person.

QUESTION: Is that person one of the two people who was dismissed?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. Currently employed by the contractor.

Let's go down -- I'll work this way. Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, there is something I needed to understand. These people, what did they have access to, exactly? Was it only the renewal application for renewal of passport or was it something else, traces of past trips, for example?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. They're passport files. Now, what is in a passport file will vary from individual to individual. And I don't know what is in each of these passport files, and certainly I wouldn't talk about it without the express authorization of any of these individuals. That holds true whether you're a senator or an average American citizen.

People can get a sense, you know, for what is in a passport application. At a minimum, what's in a passport file is your passport application, whether it's your original or your renewal. And you can take a look at -- anybody, any citizen can take a look at it. It's on our website if they go to pptform.state.gov. And you can take a look what's on there just so people can see this is what -- this is what one looks like and it has several parts. The instruction's here. It has a lot of basic data: your name, your date of birth, your mailing address, contact information, information about your parents, emergency contact information, basic biographical data, but - you know, and I'm not going to run through every single thing that's on there. But people can take a look at it. And it's basically the same --

QUESTION: But it could be more.

MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?

QUESTION: It could be more.

MR. MCCORMACK: In the passport file?

QUESTION: No, in the file, yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: In the file, yeah. It could be. I don't know and I'm certainly not going to speculate. And, you know, for our purposes, it actually -- and I know it's important to the individuals, but for our purposes, it doesn't matter what's in the file. It's the fact that the file was accessed in an unauthorized manner that is the problem. And I also would like to take just one step back just to give you a little bit of context here as well. I don't have exact numbers for you, but every single year, there's probably a handful of cases where you have unauthorized access to passport data. And I'll try to - and I'll try and do a little more research and get you some specific numbers, but to provide you a little bit of context as well.

And this is important that the American people understand this, is that last year we issued 18 million passports and the way the system works and part of the actual safeguard system that we have built in, and I'm not going to get into this, but essentially, for those 18 million passports, basically people will have had to, in some way, shape or form, accessed people's information, when you add it all up, tens of millions of times for legitimate purposes. So you have literally tens of millions of these individual, small, legitimate transactions when you're dealing with these passport issues and we have a handful of cases every single year where it's unauthorized access. Now I'll tell you - that's not making excuses. I'll tell you, one's too many.

But, you know, the important thing here is we do have a system in place to catch people who try to access these files in an unauthorized way. And we think we do a pretty good job of catching them and disciplining them.

QUESTION: Sean, can you tell us --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's -- I asked the question of Consular Affairs people - someone to come out here and try to give you a little bit of context. And like I said, I'll try to get you the exact numbers. And they told me and they said -- I said, quantify it for me. They said it's a handful each year that we know about. Now, of course, there's always a possibility that there are some that you don't know about. That always is a possibility. But in terms of the people that are caught, the description was given to me was a handful.

QUESTION: Okay. The reason I asked is that we just learned of five in the last, you know --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: So it makes me wonder when five --

MR. MCCORMACK: Maybe two handfuls.

QUESTION: Maybe there - well, but maybe there are lots that are simply not captured and you just don't know.

MR. MCCORMACK: There is always a case you don't know what you don't know. But again, I'm going on the information that's provided me when I asked the question.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Let's -- I'll go down from right to left. Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, can you tell us about the system of flagging high-profile cases? Can you talk about that a little more generically, if not specifically, whether you're talking about presidential candidates only? Are you talking about rock star personalities? Are you talking about film stars? I'm not trying to be silly or funny here --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, yeah.

QUESTION: There's an impression out there that people might have gone and accessed -- you gave us one yourself, the person who accessed Hillary Clinton's file.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: So if somebody wanted to see their favorite film star, their favorite recording artist, could they do that?

MR. MCCORMACK: If they have a passport file, theoretically, it's possible, yeah. And there are - you know, people - you know, people every day from, you know, people who are in the news and a variety of different fora whether that's in, you know, on CBS news or People magazine or any other form of media, all the way to people who just applied for a trip to visit their relatives, should have the trust. Now, is it possible that there could be access to those kind of files? Yeah, there could.

And it's the Bureau of Consular Affairs that manages the program of applying, for lack of a better term, these flags to these kinds of files, files where you might reasonably expect that there is some form of temptation, for whatever reason, to look into their files. I don't -- I can look into this for you. I don't have a number, like a percentage of all the files that are flagged.

QUESTION: Well, I'm curious about --

MR. MCCORMACK: But again, it could be -- it's anybody from, you know, politicians to movie stars to novelists to whomever.

QUESTION: Okay. And another question: Can you name the two companies or contractors that these people - that the three people worked for?

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, we're not prepared to release the name of the contractors. There could be a point here at which we will. There's been a request in from the Hill for that information, along with a lot of other information. So we'll take a look at that. At the moment, I'm not prepared to provide that, but we'll take a look at it.

QUESTION: Why are you not naming the companies? It's a public contract.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, it's a legitimate question. We're taking a look at it. I think, at this point, we've just started an investigation. We want to err on the side of caution and allow investigators to get a start without some of the attention that comes with talking about the names of the contractors. We will see. We'll -- it's something that we're taking under advisement and - but at this point in time, we're not going to talk about.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could you tell us what's the fate of this third person who accessed both Senator McCain's and Senator Obama's - why he has not been fired at this point and why the other two have? And especially in light of the fact that he has accessed two of them, why you can't say (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I'm not going to try to play close to the lines in terms of personnel matters, but let me -- I'll just say that we are reviewing our options with respect to that individual's continued employment with the contractor working at the State Department. I can tell you that that individual no longer has access to this kind of information.

QUESTION: Sean, the Clinton incident -- it was a person that was in training.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Do you think it's appropriate that somebody that's in training can go ahead and access the records of somebody as high profile as Senator Clinton? And also, why isn't that person just admonished? Are they still working? I mean, are they still able to continue on with their job or --

MR. MCCORMACK: It was a person -- this was during the past summer when we were bringing in people who don't normally do passport work, a so-called surge to deal with the passport backlog. I don't have the specifics of the individual. But, you know, again, when you're doing training, you need to be able to actually work with the system in order to do a good job and to do the job well.

Again, I can't speak to the specifics of the incident because I don't have them beyond what I've told you, that this was a training environment. It's inexplicable. You know, why, when you're sitting in a classroom and somebody tells you, use the - use your name, use your mother's name, use your father's name as part of this training exercise in order to access and work with a file and they choose to enter Senator Clinton's name? It's inexplicable. Why would somebody do that? I don't know why. But the fact is it was caught immediately, the person was admonished. I believe that they went on to continue their training without any further incident, but I can check into that for you.

QUESTION: And can I ask you about the DOJ part of this? This morning, you said --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: -- that they were - that the State Department had contacted the DOJ and that you were --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, the IG.

QUESTION: Yeah, I'm sorry, the IG --

MR. MCCORMACK: The IG, correct.

QUESTION: You will be proceeding together?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Now I know some of us were confused about what that actually meant.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: This is not a joint investigation of any kind?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. And I know that people get, rightly so, very particular about terminology. I wouldn't characterize this as a joint investigation. I'll let the DOJ characterize their level and nature of involvement. We have invited them in to participate in the way that they see fit. Again, for the reasons that I talked about, as a hedge against any potential further action that might be required that would require the DOJ to take a look at whether or not they would take any action, again, that's completely their call. It's just a way of ensuring that there is openness and transparency and that if there is any need for further action beyond just the IG investigation, that the Department of Justice would have the option of looking at what it is they would or would not do, having had access to all the information and how we did the investigation from the very beginning.

QUESTION: Sean, was this person --

QUESTION: Can I ask --

MR. MCCORMACK: Nina.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up real quick --

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- on Libby's question about the person from last summer? Was this person a PMF, so in a sense, not a contractor?

MR. MCCORMACK: That person was - is a State Department employee, not a contract employee. I don't know if they were a PMF. I'll try to - I'll see if we can: (a) find that information; and (b) see what we can say in public.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Sean, about these contractors, is this common practice to farm out this kind of work to these private companies or is this just because of this recent backlog? Can you tell me how that works?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. We have -- at the Department of State, as many, many other cabinet agencies do, we have contract relationships in order to help do some of our daily tasks. And that's done for a variety of different reasons. Normally, it is done because it is cost-effective, being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar while getting the job done in an effective way. Somebody - you guys asked earlier about how many -- what's the ratio of full-time U.S. Government employees to contractor employees in the Office of Passport Services. As of this month, there are about 1,800 U.S. Government employees working within the Office of Passport Services. As of this month, there are about 2,600 contract employees working within the Office of Passport Services.

Now, these people -- the contract employees will do a range of activities, all the way from system design, working on the actual software systems that people use in order to manipulate this data and to produce passports, to data entry, to customer service. So there's a wide variety of functions that they fulfill. But they are all under the management of State Department full-time employees as well as State Department managers. And you know, they do a really good job for the most part. There are always people who will break the rules, you know, whether they're contractors or full-time employees. But I wouldn't -- you know, having worked with a lot of contract employee folks, whether it's here or elsewhere, they do a good job, they're dedicated to their jobs and, you know, they are no less committed to trying to do a good job just because they're working for a contractor.

QUESTION: Are these contractors -- are they subject to the same kind of security checks or screenings that a State Department formal employee might be?

MR. MCCORMACK: I know Pat Kennedy talked a little bit about this last night. There are rigorous background checks that people go through, personal integrity checks --

QUESTION: For the contractors?

MR. MCCORMACK: For the contractors, right. And there is a -- I can't say with certainty, Nina, that a USG employee and a contractor go through the same security clearance process. There are many, many people in the State Department who are employed by the State Department who don't go through a security clearance process, I believe. So let me try to get you an answer and we'll post that for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I just ask one more thing?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: And just to get a sense of the duties that these people were supposed to be doing, were they given a list of names that they were supposed to look up and they veered from that list, or were they -- did they just go beyond their arena completely by putting in names at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: For --

QUESTION: I imagine that they were given a list of just regular citizens that they were meant to be processing and they just veered off and put these well-known names in.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I don't know for certain the specific responsibilities of each of the individuals. All I do know is they didn't have any business accessing those files. They didn't have a need to work on them. They weren't working on them as part of their jobs and they didn't have a need to know.

QUESTION: I'm just asking how far did they go beyond what they were meant to be doing?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't quantify it for - you know, whether they were one inch beyond the line or one foot beyond the line. In a way, it doesn't matter. They were over the line.

Yeah. I'm going to give everybody a chance here. Nicholas.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on this, I'm wondering in terms of defining unauthorized access, so when an employee accesses a file every time, do they need to put in a note of why they're accessing it, or how do you know that -- how does the flag go up? I mean, how do you know that the access was not authorized?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, for these files that are flagged, any time there is an access to those flagged files, a report is generated. And that report goes to a supervisor who can determine either for -- either through their own means that, yes, this person was supposed to be working on that file or they go talk to the person or go talk to their supervisor. In some way, they determine whether or not that person had a legitimate work-related reason to be accessing that file. And if it's found that they don't have a legitimate reason, then we proceed down the line all the way to the point of possible termination of employment.

QUESTION: All right. And also, the Secretary said upstairs that, to her knowledge, senior management had not been notified. Do you know how high did people in the chain know about the incident? Because someone knew, but she said it was at senior management.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. It's at the office director level for all -- for the three incidents with respect to Senator Obama. With respect to the other two, I have to do some research. But again, these are things that just came to light and came to -- and about which senior management only became aware today.

QUESTION: Well, if it was right, that means the Passport Office?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, in the Passport -- the Office of Passport Services. So there are obviously --

QUESTION: Different locations, right.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- numerous offices there and there are numerous locations as well, but at the office director level.

Yeah.

QUESTION: And their officers -- so that was a State Department employee? That was not a contractor person; that was an employee of the State -- the manager -- the supervisor?

MR. MCCORMACK: Ultimately, it did come -- yes, yes.

Glenn.

QUESTION: Yes, I came a little late. So if you already addressed this, I apologize. First of all, have you determined whether or not any laws have been broken by this -- by what they did here in terms of accessing the passports?

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, we haven't, no.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: But our Office of Legal Counsel is - was - looked into this early on yesterday when we became aware that we -- that there was an issue here. So they're going to work closely with the IG's office on just those questions. I don't know what the potential pool of possible laws that might apply to these kinds of incidents are. I'm happy to do a little bit of research and see if we can find that for you.

QUESTION: Well, I was asking because Pat said last night he hoped to find out this morning whether or not any laws have been broken.

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't - as of this morning, I talked to him very generally about that and he didn't have any information for me.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, if you do find out --

MR. MCCORMACK: If we find out, we'll -- you know, for all of these questions, if we can be efficient in finding the answers and posting them for you, we'll do it, just so everybody is kept up to date here and I know that we're coming into a weekend as well.

QUESTION: And, Sean - and then, just to follow up something else that came up last night, the -- there's a question as to whether or not the Inspector General has any kind of authority or ability to talk to or question people who have been fired.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Is there an update on that? What kind of -- these people have already been terminated.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: What can the State Department do now to talk to them or -

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly, we try to search them out and, on our own accord, try to contact them and to question them. I don't know that we've gotten beyond that point.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know if anyone has spoken at this point to those people or are you still just relying on what the supervisor said?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know that anybody has spoken with them at this point.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Charley.

QUESTION: How straightforward is it when the employees of contractors of the State Department are hired and trained that they may lose their jobs if they snoop into people's files?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's very clear. And that's a big part of the process here, is you want to make the rules known to people as clearly as they possibly can both in their training period as well as their initial employment period. And frankly, every single time they access a computer, there's a reminder that comes up that says the information you are about to access has Privacy Act restrictions on it and you are acknowledging that you have a need-to-know in order to do your job to access this file and that if you are accessing it in an unauthorized manner, then there are potential penalties.

So not only is this part of the atmosphere in these offices in terms of the rules that are known and made explicit to everybody; there's a reminder every single time you log onto your computer about it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not a matter of signing. The way it works is, basically by logging on, you acknowledge that you have read and understand this and you understand the consequences for breaking the rules.

QUESTION: Can you get a copy of that actual (inaudible) so we know what is --

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me look into it and see.

QUESTION: And once you log on, is it just as easy as a Google search? I mean, it sounds like this person --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't know, Libby. You know, I honestly don't. I don't know how easy it is. I've never worked on one of these terminals. I've never seen the screens and so forth.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about -- one more thing about the information that's in people's files?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it possible that people's travel records are in there, your history of travel overseas?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Libby, I just don't know what is in individual files. If we can provide an answer to that, we will. I don't know if there's a -- I don't know if there's a one-size-fits-all answer for that. I suspect that everybody's files are probably different just because everybody has individual circumstances. But if there's a general answer we can provide to you, well, I'm happy to do so.

Charley.

QUESTION: In this developing story, has there been any new information about whether information from the snooping was disseminated and spread to other people?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. No, we have nothing new. And that - and, you know, as I said last night, you know, it is still our initial take that this was -- I referred to it as imprudent curiosity. And you can use a lot of other terms for it and - but we are not dismissive of any other possibility and that's the reason why we have an investigation underway. And as the Secretary made very clear, we're going to get to the bottom of it.

QUESTION: At the very minimum, would you at least acknowledge this is very embarrassing for the State Department?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, anytime in public, you have -- you're having a discussion about your employees not doing -- whether they're contract employees or U.S. Government employees -- not doing their job the way they're supposed to and having broken the rules, yeah, that's embarrassing. Of course, you don't want it to happen.

But you know, despite that fact, we are trying to deal with this in as straightforward and transparent a way as we possibly can without in any way compromising our ability to get to the facts and, if need be, to take any further action and also use the opportunity to try to reassure all those people that, you know, have transactions with the Department of State that we take very seriously the trust that they have put in us, and we take very seriously our responsibilities in terms of handling their personal information.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Of the managers and the people who knew before yesterday about these breaches, are any of them, as far as you know, political appointees?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe that they are political appointees. I believe that they are full-time government employees, career employees.

Yes, you haven't had a question.

QUESTION: Yes. You mentioned that when someone's report or someone's files are authorized - accessed in an unauthorized manner that a flag signals. So why did it take three months for senior management to catch wind of the incident?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that gets back to, I think, the first question we had here. That should have happened. That information should have been passed up the chain so that people in more senior management roles could make a judgment about whether or not there were any other additional safeguards that were needed or any other additional steps that needed to be taken. So that was a breakdown. You know, like I said last night, Pat said last night, I said it again today: The system worked. Is the system perfect? No, it isn't perfect. And we see this is an example of how the system needs to be improved.

QUESTION: So who's in charge of catching these flags when they signal and shouldn't they have gone to senior management as soon as it happened?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, I think I just answered that question. In terms of who is responsible, it's the working-level managers and supervisors.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Sean, do you have a broader issue here, a broader problem with privacy in that these issues were - these instances were caught because they were flagged, they were high-profile --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- individuals, but for someone like myself or anybody else in this room, if somebody were trying to access it, is there a broader inherent flaw in your system that people are able to access security - Social Security numbers, photos, contact information for pretty much anybody?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's what I was trying to get at at the very beginning here and I've been trying to emphasize all along the way. There is a system whereby you can flag files and very clearly, that is - you know, if there's an unauthorized access, it's very easy to detect. There's an automatic flag and questions are asked immediately.

For me or for you or for anybody else in this room who doesn't necessarily have a flag, and I mean that in a positive way, on their file, there are other safeguards built into the system. Because of course, we are aware of the potential for people to just look into other files. That's not something that I can describe in public for you and we're not going to talk about it in public, but - because to do so is only to describe to people who might want to abuse the system of ways that they can get around the safeguards that are built in.

But they do exist. They do exist, but it is different than just having a flag raised every time the file is accessed, because as you can imagine, just based on 18 million passports issued last year, if everybody had that kind of flag on their file for every time it was accessed, you would have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of these every single year and you basically wouldn't be able to do your job.

QUESTION: Of unauthorized accesses, you mean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct, correct.

All the way in the back.

QUESTION: Sean, please forgive me if you've already answered this. I was late. How many managers are there involved who didn't send this up the chain and are they being reprimanded?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you at this point. I mean, clearly, in the cases of Senator Obama's files, there were at least three supervisors who didn't forward this information up the chain and now that we have these two other incidents that we're aware of, there may be more than three. I can't tell you the universe of people who in -- who held some form of supervisory or management responsibility who didn't raise the issue up the chain. Clearly, that's something that we are going to be interested in understanding.

And as for the issue of if there's any further action, disciplinary action that's required, I think we're going to want to understand whether or not this was a, shall I say, lapse in judgment or whether or not there was actually some rule or regulation broken. Now, that also raises the question, if a rule or regulation wasn't broken, do you need a rule or regulation to ensure that in the future you have that kind of information surface?

Yeah, we'll work our way forward again. Glenn.

QUESTION: Yes. Can you say how many flags there are out there? How many political figures or celebrities are flagged in the system?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, as I was standing up there, I was asking myself the same question. We'll try to get that for you, kind of what's the universe.

QUESTION: Right. What's the -- okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: And then secondly, within that universe, can you say whether or not there -- how many people have been terminated or disciplined for actually going into flagged files? I mean, how common an occurrence is this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's - and we'll try to get a more refined answer for you beyond the handful of incidents. Now -- you know, clearly, even in the cases that we have, there's a subset there of people that were terminated and people that were disciplined yet --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- still employed. I'll try to get a breakdown of this data for you. I asked for it early this afternoon and, understandably, people are churning on a lot of different things. So we'll try to generate that as quickly as we can. And of course, if - I say that with the caveat that if there are any restrictions on personnel data, then we'll have to abide by those. But it's a good question and we'll try to get you an answer.

QUESTION: Yeah, I'm just trying to figure out how --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, I get it. You know, it's a good question.

QUESTION: And just a -- just --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, we will -- for all of these things, too, the open questions, and I know there are numerous questions, and I see some of my staff over here who holding their heads because they are going to be responsible for tracking down the answers to these things. (Laughter.)

That -- to as many of these open questions, we will try to get as much information for you and post it today. We will continue, however, even if we're not able to get it today, to keep working on getting the answers. So we can --

QUESTION: Just to follow up, one thing on the application and on the file, I mean, I'm thinking about my own situation where I have filled out this --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- passport application form. There's not a lot of information on it. And is there anything else in someone's file that you have at the State Department that would be -- is there other information collected that goes into a passport file --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- or is it just this particular --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's what Libby asked. And if I can provide a general answer to that question, if there's a way to describe sort of the range of what might be in a passport file, I'm happy to do it. I can't narrow down the universe for you any more than to say that, at a minimum, you have either your passport application or your renewal application or maybe all your applications along the way if you've had multiple passports.

QUESTION: If you could check the three presidential candidates, (inaudible) too long?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, you can be assured that I'm not going to talk about what is in anybody's file without their express permission. But if I can provide you all a general answer of the kinds of things that might be in passport files, then I'm happy to do that within the confines of maintaining everybody's privacy.

QUESTION: You might want to -- you might not want to for those three for a little while. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Sean, did Pat Kennedy offer any immediate directive to the office managers in the case someone got the bright idea to do this today, tomorrow, in the coming days? Is there any directive to the office managers to report this up the chain?

MR. MCCORMACK: I was pretty -- I think everybody understands --

QUESTION: Well --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, you know, it's a good question. No, Pat very specifically told people that if you have these kinds of unauthorized accesses, these need to be surfaced at least up to the Deputy Assistant Secretary level in the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Yeah. Lambros, do you have a question on this or something else?

QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, it is very important for me, too. From the information you have already, you told us so many stories today, who was the real target of this illegal action -- Senator Barack Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator John McCain?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, each of them - each of them --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) I'm asking.

MR. MCCORMACK: Every single one of them - look, every single one of them suffered in the sense that some - they had somebody looking through their personal information and they weren't authorized to do so. As for the motivations for each of these individuals, I cannot say definitively, and that's part of the investigation. I have said and I'll say again that the initial information, as -- you know, as sketchy as it may be at this point, indicates to us that, I'll repeat it, imprudent curiosity. But that doesn't mean that we're dismissing any other possibility.

QUESTION: Since --

MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros -- no, Lambros, that's enough. We've got so many questions here. We're going to -- do you have a question about this or --

QUESTION: This.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. All right, Kirit.

QUESTION: You say that -- you said that you have broadened your search to the other presidential candidates. Is this going to go any broader? Are you looking to see whether President Bush's records were accessed, Secretary Rice? I mean, how wide is this going to go?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you have -- we have an IG investigation. I'm sure that they are going to look at any other incidences of unauthorized access as part of seeing -- determining whether or not there are any systemic issues here. I can't -- you know, it's not a -- at this point, there's not a specific broader search other than the Inspector General investigation. Now, if there is a different answer that comes up either this afternoon or in the coming days to that question, we'll let you know.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Specifically, Waxman wanted the names of these companies to be brought to the committee on Monday and made public.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.

QUESTION: Are you going to try and do that?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have a number of congressional inquiries, as you can imagine, on this matter, and we will answer each of them in turn to the best of our ability.

QUESTION: Well, yes, but he's asking for Monday. Will you do it by Monday?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I understand. We will answer all of these inquiries in turn to the best of our ability.

Yeah, Charlie.

QUESTION: I want to see if I understand this correctly. Since we have, in the case of Senator Obama, three incidents -- the first one was in January -- and if the question is why did it take so long for this to come out, your answer is still: It came to the supervisor's level, they took action, and the fault lay after that, that it didn't come to -- that it didn't come out -- you know --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, the - yeah, the fact that it didn't rise any higher than that in terms of people being made aware, that's a problem. And we only became, at a senior management level, aware of this yesterday.

QUESTION: And then it happened again in February?

MR. MCCORMACK: January, February, March, with respect to Senator Obama.

QUESTION: And my question is: Has any supervisor been disciplined or let go?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that they have. But again, that gets back to the question of whether or not this is a lapse in professional judgment in not surfacing this information or whether or not there was a rule or regulation broken. In any case, we have taken steps, immediate steps in the form of Pat Kennedy issuing directives to make sure that that doesn't happen again and that any sort of unauthorized -- similar unauthorized accesses get surfaced to the level of at least Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.

Yeah.

QUESTION: When a contractor is fired, doesn't Pat Kennedy or anyone else in senior management have to review that case?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not necessarily. I mean, this is - I mean, just for example, you know, in the Office of Passport Services, there are 2,600 contract employees. That's one office in the State Department where you have tens of thousands of full-time employees. Then you also have contract employees. I mean, if you had every single time there were a disciplinary action, even including firing of a contractor, Pat Kennedy probably wouldn't be doing anything else but looking at those things.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Another subject.

MR. MCCORMACK: Another subject? Well, let's exhaust this one.

Libby.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from the Inspector General's office, just because this case is so high profile with three candidates for president, is there any thought being given to taking this investigation away from the State Department, making up some sort of independent person that can look into this?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, not at this point. These are career professionals. The acting head, the acting IG is a career civil service employee and, as I said, the head of the Investigations Division, who's going to have day-to-day supervisory responsibility for the investigation, is a career Secret Service special agent now over at the State Department.

Okay. Other topics? Lambros, yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the same issue, may I --

MR. MCCORMACK: Be my guest.

QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, since the whole story looks like a new Watergate scandal -- (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: You know what? You know what? No, Lambros. You know what? That is so outrageous, you just lost your privilege. I'm sorry. No, I'm sorry, that's outrageous.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. This is on Taiwan. Congressman Rohrabacher held a press conference in Taipei on the eve of Taiwan's presidential election to express the U.S. support of Taiwan's referendum to join the UN. Are you concerned that this may confuse Taiwanese voters or even undercut the Administration's message on the very issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think you should look nowhere else but to the statements of the Secretary of State as well as other officials from this podium talking -- what the U.S. policy is on this issue. There should be no confusion.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The Duma, the Russian parliament, today called President Putin to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: We, along with others, support and believe firmly in the territorial integrity of Georgia as well as the right of the government in Tbilisi to exercise sovereignty over all parts of Georgian territory.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Hold on. French President Sarkozy announced a modest cut in France's nuclear arsenal and called on the U.S. and China to commit to no more weapons tests. Is there any comment on --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen his comments, but the United States has not conducted a weapons test in a couple of decades as far as I know.

QUESTION: Another issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, you - no, you have had enough.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, what do you think about Usama bin Laden's recent comments about the war to liberate Palestine in Iraq? Do you have the --

MR. MCCORMACK: War of what?

QUESTION: Oh, the holy war to liberate Palestine is in Iraq.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's just more hate being spewed by somebody who is trying to perpetuate a twisted, perverted, depraved ideology.

QUESTION: On Cyprus. Do you have any comment about the resumption of the reunification talks in Cyprus in three months? And they're also opening a new passage in (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've all been very hopeful for a solution to this longstanding problem and there have been many attempts at it. If there is new hope in the process, then that is a good thing. I'll try to -- I haven't looked specifically at what has been in the news and we'll try to -- if there's anything more to add to that answer, we'll get it to you.

QUESTION: There is --

QUESTION: One last --

QUESTION: Cyprus issue --

QUESTION: One last thing. The Russian Prime Minister is telling the U.S. to ease off on Belarus.

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen the comments. We'll take them.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)

DPB # 52



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