S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Friday, March 21, 2008

So, is anyone surprised?

Barack Obama's passport records at the State Department have been breached, and the candidate is mad. Is anyone surprised that this happened? Via Memeorandum I learned that the Washington Times broke the story yesterday: "Two State Department employees were fired recently and a third disciplined for improperly accessing electronic personal data on Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, Bush administration officials said today." Senator Obama has every right to be upset and to demand that the Bush administration gets to the bottom of these incidents.

Chain of command also breached -- Is anyone surprised that it happened months ago and the top people at the State Department found out about it from a reporter -- only yesterday? I was one of those "low-level managers" in a non-profit agency. My boss was easy going and a good supervisor. But she told me that she would not tolerate "surprises." Our chain of command worked because her boss, our executive director, wanted to know the bad stuff, too, and certainly before it hit the papers. It sounds to me that unauthorized reading of a presidential candidate's file could have occurred because of improper training at best, or for nefarious purposes at worst.

Dates coincidental? Is anyone surprised that the dates of the breaches coincide with important Democratic campaign dates? Josh Marshall figured out: "That would be the day after the New Hampshire primary, the day of the Democratic debate in Texas and the day the Wright story really hit." If it was not mere curiosity, as the State Department currently claims, what was the purpose of the file breach? It could have been for campaign purposes, of either the Clinton or McCain campaign operations. Or it could be for the purposes of stealing private information to defraud or endanger Obama.

Outsourcing snooping -- Is anyone surprised that it was allegedly done by a private contracting company? This is yet another example of State Department Contractor misbehavior. Reports of other incidents, primarily in Iraq, come to mind. It seems to me that most citizens should expect that their own private records and those of high public officials should be safeguarded with government, not contractor accountability. There is a law called the Privacy Act, and there are penalties for violating it.

What IG investigation? Is anyone surprised that the State Department is unequipped to investigate the matter because they do not currently have an official Inspector General, only an acting Deputy? The State Department will be unable to do a proper investigation of its contract employees or of its security systems. Only an Inspector General can do an objective search to discover what happened. Like many other positions in this administration, it is vacant. This is a reminder to me that we currently have a dysfunctional Federal Election Commission due to a large number of Commissioner vacancies.

Anyone's privacy can be violated -- Is anyone surprised that this could actually happen in the good old U.S. of A.? This story fuses very easily with an article (3/20/08) by Ryan Singel, I discovered from Wired-Threat Level titled, "Feds Tout New Domestic Intelligence Centers; Press Stays Home." To quote several little gems in this article that strike me as extremely ironic issues of privacy:

Some of the nation's top law enforcement and anti-terror officials tried to tell the public Tuesday and Wednesday a bit about the growing importance and effectiveness of the nation's so-called fusion centers. Those fifty or so centers are where the federal, state and local cops share intelligence, sift data for clues, run down reports of suspicious packages and connect dots in an effort to detect and thwart terrorism attacks, drug smuggling and gang fighting.

To talk a little more about the little-known new fusing, the officials held press conferences at Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at the second annual National Fusion Center conference being held in San Francisco. . . A total of three reporters showed up over two days . . . THREAT LEVEL was the only media outlet to show up two days running . . .

Also present was Ambassador Thomas McNamara who now works at the Director of National Intelligence Office. . . McNamara's group is working on custom-built XML schemes, such as a standard for Supicious Activity Reports. The idea is have all fusion centers and intelligence agencies using the same data format, to more easily share, search, sort and store intelligence data.

. . . fusion centers, where state and local cops work alongside federal employees, would be working on immigration, radicalization, demographic changes, hurricanes, biological and chemical threats, as well as common criminal activity.

. . . But that "all hazards, all threats" approach sounds suspiciously like the government is building a distributed domestic intelligence service that could easily begin keeping tabs on Americans exercising their First Amendment rights. The scope also seems at odds with the federal government's Information Sharing Environment guidelines, which say these centers are supposed to focus on terrorism

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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The Future Was Yesterday said...

I'm surprised they were competent enough to only breach ONE. Usually, any breach by the Government is by the millions.

Carol Gee said...

Future, it is by the millions. They have not been forced to admit it yet. But, now we know it also included Hillary Clinton and John McCain also.
I was surprised that no reporter asked State Dept. spokesman, Sean McCormick, who else in the government has access to passport files. That's where the million breaches comes in, I believe.
Thanks for your comment, Dan'l.