Some State Depart­ment pass­port snoop­ers still on the job

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

The nine peo­ple who pleaded guilty to snoop­ing into the pass­port files of fa­mous celebri­ties and politi­cians such as thenSens. Barack Obama and Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton were not the only work­ers at the State Depart­ment who peeked into con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments.

The Wash­ing­ton Times has learned that at least 11 other State Depart­ment work­ers also have been caught snoop­ing into pass­port files. But th­ese work­ers have avoided crim­i­nal charges and ap­pear to have kept their jobs.

Ac­cord­ing to in­ves­tiga­tive memos re­leased to The Times through an open records re­quest, the ad­di­tional work­ers glanced through the files out of bore­dom, “dumb cu­rios­ity” and “just be­ing nosy.” They were ad­mon­ished by the depart­ment for their be­hav­ior but not pros­e­cuted.

For ex­am­ple, one State Depart­ment of­fi­cial in Wash­ing­ton ac­cessed se­cret pass­port files more than 40 times, but faced no crim­i­nal charges be­cause the statute of lim­i­ta­tions had ex­pired, ac­cord­ing to the memos, which were ob­tained through the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act.

“I wasn’t think­ing at the time. It was not a smart judg­ment call,” an­other worker caught snoop­ing told in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

State Depart­ment em­ploy­ees and con­tract work­ers came un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion last year for snoop­ing into the pass­port files of pres­i­den­tial candidates, in­clud­ing Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clin­ton. The scan­dal went pub­lic af­ter The Times re­ported about the unau­tho­rized in­spec­tion of Mr. Obama’s files in March 2008.

Since then, nine State Depart­ment work­ers and con­trac­tors have pleaded guilty to crim­i­nal charges. Ac­cess­ing pass­port files out­side of of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment du­ties is a vi­o­la­tion of the fed­eral Pri­vacy Act of 1974.

But the memos re­leased to The Times show that at least 11 oth­ers were never pros­e­cuted and have kept their jobs af­ter be­ing caught do­ing the same thing. In­stead, th­ese em­ploy­ees re­ceived let­ters of warn­ing or ad­mon­ish­ment from the depart­ment’s hu­man re­sources of­fice or other offices af­ter pros­e­cu­tors de­clined to press charges.

State Depart­ment spokesman An­drew Laine con­firmed that work­ers given warn­ing or ad­mon­ish­ment let­ters were not fired. He added that dis­ci­plinary ac­tions for the of­fense in gen­eral range from let­ters of warn­ing to ter­mi­na­tion, de­pend­ing on the “fre­quency and mo­ti­va­tion of the mis­con­duct.”

“The State Depart­ment con­sid­ers the pro­tec­tion of pass­port records a se­ri­ous mat­ter and will pur­sue dis­ci­plinary action against all cases of unau­tho­rized ac­cess,” he said.

As an­other pre­cau­tion, he said, the depart­ment has de­ac­ti­vated ac­counts for about 15,000 users of the State Depart­ment’s elec­tronic pass­port data­base.

The Times ob­tained records on the snoop­ing through the State Depart­ment’s of­fice of in­spec­tor gen­eral, which redacted the names of the em­ploy­ees who were not charged crim­i­nally.

The em­ploy­ees of­fered a host of rea­sons for snoop­ing:

Caught looking up the files of co-work­ers, tele­vi­sion per­son­al­i­ties and celebri­ties, one worker in Wash­ing­ton con­fessed

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