The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-CA) said in a statement that his committee will investigate the allegations that State Department employees improperly accessed the passport information of presidential candidates John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.
“It is unacceptable for a government employee to invade the privacy of any individual. We must guard against government abuse of power, whether for political or other purposes. The disciplinary action that the State Department has taken in this case thus far seems to be appropriate. The Department has affirmed that a senior, non-political, career staff member in the Inspector General’s office is now investigating. However, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversees the State Department, will also investigate this matter,” Berman said.
Berman compared this case to the episode in 1992 when President George H.W. Bush snooped into then presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s passport records. “The circumstances in this case may be different from the George H.W. Bush Administration’s snooping into Bill Clinton’s passport records during the 1992 presidential campaign. But it is worth noting that that earlier situation also was characterized as isolated and non-political when the news initially emerged. This time, as then, Congress will pay close attention to the depth of Executive Branch involvement in the rifling of presidential candidates’ passport files.”
It is difficult to say whether this was politically motivated or not at this stage, but if the motivation wasn’t political, it could be financial. Many media outlets would pay a pretty penny for some exclusive dirt on one or all of the presidential candidates. No matter what the motivation this is certainly a black eye for the State Department. It is worth noting that two of three breaches were carried out by private contractors.
To me, this is another example of why privatization is not always a good thing. The Bush administration does not want to hire more federal employees strictly for ideological reasons, but as we have learned with contractors in Iraq, close supervision is critical. My guess is that the motivations in each case likely were political, but how many other people were snooped on who aren’t presidential candidates? This is a question that I think any investigation must look to answer.