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Obama's Passport By: Marion Edwyn Harrison, Esq.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 26, 2008

During the past few days the media has reported - some might say, speculated - about unauthorized release within the Department of State of the passport file/s relating to Senator Barrack H. Obama. Passport files don’t contain much information not otherwise readily - probably too readily - available to those who know how to gather information about people.  Further, there is speculation - indeed, some allegations - that the release was politically motivated (whether to help or hurt the Obama candidacy being unclear).

Neither of these considerations is the point of this Commentary. Rather, the point is that the focus is upon one or more intermediate-level employees as the culprit.

One sees more and more reports of unauthorized leaks and disclosures of personal information.  These offenses often include huge batches of credit-card information and/or other data which facilitate identity theft or just plain theft.

In a different context, which to our national security is worse, highly confidential information about military and other national-security matters from time to time is leaked, stolen or otherwise disclosed.

Last week I was privileged to hear a talk at a Military Order of the Carabao luncheon, of which organization I am a member. (In spite of the unique name, derived from a history of United States Military duty in the Philippines and a touch of humor, the luncheons produce highly qualified speakers, many of whom mostly talk about military, foreign-relations, security matters or a combination.) Last week’s speaker was Northrop Grumman Corporation Vice President for Intelligence Programs Richard L. Haver, who has considerable nongovernmental and quasi-governmental experience in security matters.

He pointed out, citing a number of examples, that from post-World War II on, so many individuals who have compromised security information have been intermediate-level personnel.   He also mentioned that, aside from some of the Communist spies of the 1940s, many people who compromise security information do so for personal monetary gain, to fulfill a mentally screwball motivation or in furtherance of some kind of irrationality.  (However, it well may be that some more current culprits are motivated by their religious cause.)  In a lighter, but still serious, note, he also pointed out the strong law-enforcement and scientific disagreement about the worth of polygraphs - an observation many judges and attorneys share; and read a few questions from ridiculous and self-serving questionnaires some Federal agencies use.

The relevant point is identical whether the issue is personal confidentiality, identity theft, corporate or other business records, national security or any other motivation, with the possible occasional exception of religious terrorism. The point substantively is that most of the time the individual leaking or stealing information is a middle- or intermediate-level employee or contractor.

It thus behooves the Federal Government - as well as other governments, businesses, academic institutions, charities and any other employer - realistically to “vet” and to observe an employee, contractor or consultant who has access to confidential data.   In this age of ubiquitous computers and all kinds of stored confidential and top-secret information, the task is more difficult and more essential than ever.  In too many cases the Federal Government can’t tell individuals and industry what to do but the Feds can begin by minding their own data inventories. 

Marion Edwyn Harrison is President of, and Counsel to, the Free Congress Foundation.

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