Contractors working for the US State Department breached the passport files of presidential candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday. ( dpa )
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had contacted Democrats Obama and Clinton to apologize for the mishap and would soon be speaking with the presumptive Republican nominee McCain, McCormack said.
"We're sorry that this happened and we take it very seriously," McCormack said, adding the State Department has launched an investigation into the incidents.
Obama's file was breached on three occasions beginning January 9 by three different contractors and two of them were sacked for violating privacy regulations. The third employee who was disciplined but remained employed was the individual who snooped on McCain's file.
Computer mechanisms for detecting unauthorized accesses to the files alerted the department to the incidents but the breaches were not reported to upper management, McCormack said.
News that Obama's file had been violated broke Thursday night, and Rice told reporters Friday she telephoned the Illinois senator to apologize and to "make certain that nothing more was going on."
"I told him that I was sorry," Rice said. "And I told him that I, myself, would be very disturbed if I learned that somebody had looked into my passport file. And therefore I will stay on top of it and get to the bottom of it."
Clinton's office released a statement Friday saying she had been informed by Rice of a violation in 2007.
"The State Department will be briefing Senator Clinton's staff this afternoon to provide details about the recent unauthorized breaches of passport records," Clinton's office said. "Senator Clinton will closely monitor the State Department's investigation into this and the other breaches of private passport information."
McCormack said it appeared that the violation likely came out of curiosity about the high profile candidates.
"It's our initial view that this was imprudent curiosity on the part of these three separate individuals," McCormack said of the Obama case.