Did CIA Pick Sanitize Obama’s Passport Records?
|Employee breached files when eligibility issue during 2008 campaign|
NEW YORK – John Brennan, the Obama counter-terrorism adviser nominated this week to head the CIA, played a controversial role in what many suspect was an effort to sanitize Obama’s passport records.
On March 21, 2008, amid Obama’s first presidential campaign, two unnamed contract employees for the State Department were fired and a third was disciplined for breaching the passport file of Democratic presidential candidate and then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Breaking the story, the Washington Times on March 20, 2008, noted that all three had used their authorized computer network access to look up and read Obama’s records within the State Department consular affairs section that “possesses and stores passport information.”
Contacted by the newspaper, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack attributed the violations to non-political motivations, stressing that the three individuals involved “did not appear to be seeking information on behalf of any political candidate or party.”
“As far as we can tell, in each of the three cases, it was imprudent curiosity,” McCormack told the Washington Times.
The spokesman did not disclose exactly how the State Department came to that conclusion.
By the next day, the story had changed.
The New York Times reported March 21, 2008, that the security breach had involved unauthorized searches of the passport records not just of Sen. Obama but also of then-presidential contenders Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton.
Again, the New York Times attributed the breaches to “garden-variety snooping by idle employees” that was “not politically motivated.”
Like the Washington Times, the New York Times gave no explanation to back up its assertion that the breaches were attributable to non-political malfeasance.
Still, the New York Times report indicated then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had spent Friday morning calling all three presidential candidates and that she had told Obama that she was sorry for the violation.
“I told him that I myself would be very disturbed if I learned that somebody had looked into my passport file,” Rice said.
The newspaper quoted Obama as saying he appreciated the apology but that he expected the passport situation “to be investigated diligently and openly.”
According to the New York Times report, Obama’s tone of concern was obvious.
“One of the things that the American people count on in their interactions with any level of government is that if they have to disclose personal information, that is going to stay personal and stay private,” Obama told reporters. “And when you have not just one, but a series of attempts to tap into people’s personal records, that’s a problem, not just for me, but for how our government is functioning.”
The New York Times noted that the files examined likely contained sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers, addresses and dates of birth, as well as passport applications and other biographical information that would pertain to U.S. citizenship. Only at the end of the article did the New York Times note that State Department spokesman McCormack had emphasized the most egregious violation appeared to have been made against Obama.
Obama was the only one of the three presidential candidates involved who had his passport file breached on three separate occasions.
The first occurred Jan. 9, 2008, followed by separate violations Feb. 21 and March 14, 2008. Moreover, all three of the offending employees had breached Obama’s files, while each of the passport files of McCain and Clinton had been breached only once.
The Brennan connection
The New York Times noted the two offending State Department contract employees who were fired had worked for Stanley Inc., a company based in Arlington, Va., while the reprimanded worker continued to be employed by the Analysis Corporation of McLean, Va.
The newspaper gave no background on either corporation, other than to note that Stanley Inc. did “computer work for the government.”
At that time, Stanley Inc. was a 3,500-person technology firm that had just won a $570-million contract to provide computer-related passport services to the State Department.
Analysis Corporation was headed by Brennan, a former CIA agent who was then serving as an adviser on intelligence and foreign policy to Sen. Obama’s presidential campaign.
After Obama’s inauguration, Brennan joined the White House as assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counter-terrorism.
By March 22, 2008, the Washington Times reported that the State Department investigation had focused on the contract worker for the Analysis Corporation, because he was the only one of the three involved in breaching the passport records of both Obama and McCain, the two presidential candidates whose eligibility as “natural born” citizens under Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution were in question.
Keeping with the theme that the motive for the passport breach was attributable to mischief, the three State Department contract employees received relatively light penalties for their offenses – two were fired and one was reprimanded.
Although at the time the State Department promised a full-scale investigation, the public was kept in the dark.
In July 2008, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General issued a 104-page investigative report on the passport breach incidents, stamped “Sensitive But Unclassified.” The report was so heavily redacted, it was virtually useless to the public. Scores of passages were blacked out entirely, including one sequence of 29 consecutive pages that were each obliterated by a solid black box that made it impossible even to determine paragraph structures.
Investigative reporter Kenneth Timmerman said a well-placed but unnamed source told him that the real point of the passport breach incidents was to cauterize the Obama file, removing from it any information that could prove damaging to his eligibility to be president.
According to the theory, the breaches of McCain’s and Clinton’s files were done for misdirection purposes, to create confusion and to suggest the motives of the perpetrators were attributable entirely to innocent curiosity.
Another thief enters the case
Within a few days, a new witness surfaced unexpectedly, providing evidence that breaching passport files was an offense being perpetrated by State Department officials on a massive and everyday basis.
The case centered on Leiutenant Quarles Harris Jr., age 24. Harris, who spelled his named differently than the officer rank, was a petty drug dealer and identity-theft criminal who never served in the military or in any police or fire department.
On March 25, 2008, at approximately 9:30 p.m., Officer William A. Smith Jr. of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s Narcotics Special Investigation Division stopped an oncoming vehicle that had tinted windows he believed were in violation of the D.C. Tinted Window Act of 1994.
After stopping the vehicle, Smith found the driver, Harris, and his female passenger had been smoking marijuana. Harris had stuffed in his jacket pocket a large clear zip-lock bag containing 13 smaller clear zip-lock bags, each filled with marijuana.
The affidavit of criminal complaint filed by Smith with the U.S. District Court specified that in the search of the vehicle, the officers found 19 different credit cards with names different from Harris and his female passenger. Also discovered were eight State Department passport applications, also in names different from Harris and his female passenger.
The officers further discovered four of the names on the passport applications matched the names on the credit cards. A check with American Express while Harris was still on the scene of the traffic stop indicated that some of the American Express cards in his possession, but not in his name, had recently been used and that American Express had placed a “fraud alert” on the cards.
Smith brought Harris to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Sixth District, where agents of the U.S. Secret Service, the State Department and the U.S. Postal Service questioned him. Harris’ involvement in passport application theft clearly made him no ordinary petty criminal.
According to the criminal complaint filed by Smith, Harris admitted under questioning that he obtained the passport information from an unnamed co-conspirator working at the State Department. The complaint said the passport applications were used to obtain credit cards in the names of the passport applicants.
Another unnamed co-conspirator working at the U.S. Postal Service intercepted the issued credit cards before they were delivered to the residences of the persons named on the cards.
What was clear from Harris’ statements was that breaching passport records at the State Department had developed into major criminal activity conducted on a continuing basis by State Department employees with access to the State Department’s Passport Information Electronic Records System, commonly known by the acronym PIERS.
What also was clear was that Harris had information related to the State Department employees who had breached Obama’s passport records and that he was cooperating with government officials.
Despite the objection of the prosecutors, the judge at his arraignment released Harris the next day on personal recognizance. He was ordered to return to court for a hearing in June 2008.
Key witness murdered
However, Harris did not live to attend the court hearing.
On April 18, 2008, he was found murdered in Washington, D.C., by a single bullet to the head in what appeared to be a drive-by shooting.
The Washington Times reported April 19, 2008, that a “key witness in a federal probe into passport information stolen from the State Department was fatally shot in front of a District church” at close range, around 11 p.m., in the 2800 block of 12th Street NE, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Harris, who the Washington Times described as “cooperating with federal investigators,” was found slumped dead at the steering wheel of his car in front of the Judah House Praise Baptist Church in the northeast section of D.C., according to Commander Michael Anzallo, the head of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division.
A police officer patrolling the neighborhood at the time of Harris’ death heard gunshots and ran to the scene, only to find Harris dead inside his car. The Metropolitan Police admitted a “shot spotter” device had been used to locate Harris in the shooting, although police officials declined to say whether his death was a direct result of his cooperation with federal investigators.
There is no evidence that today links Harris’ crimes or murder with the breach of Obama’s passport records by State Department contract employees.
At first glance, Harris could be dismissed as a foot-soldier selling marijuana and peddling credit cards fraudulently obtained via passport-related identity theft.
Yet there is more to the story than petty criminal activity. Obviously, Harris got himself in way over his head when he decided to work with the State Department officials accessing PIERS to obtain passport records without authorization.
Equally obvious was that by being willing to cooperate with police, Harris risked becoming a threat to his accomplices and co-conspirators within the State Department.
ABC news affiliate WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C., reported Cleopatria Harris, the mother of Leiutenant Quarles Harris, believed her son was murdered to keep him from cooperating with the federal investigation into the passport-record breach. She told the TV station her son was in court three days before his murder.
“He felt like he was going to do jail time. He was willing to do jail time,” she said, indicating that she believed news reports that her son had been arrested and was cooperating with the police were the reason he was killed. “Yes I do. think it had a hell of a lot to do with it. [The story] made my son appear to be a snitch.”
Similarly, the Washington Post reported Cleopatria Harris was “absolutely sure” her son was killed because of his involvement in the passport-credit card scam.
Harris’ mother refused to believe her son’s murder was an act of violence unrelated to the passport scheme. Instead, she contended he was killed because he was an important witness regarding a State Department breach of passport records.
To date, the D.C. Metropolitan Police have no suspects in the still unsolved murder of Leiutenant Quarles Harris Jr. Nor has the State Department ever revealed publicly what was discovered in the breach of Obama’s passport records. The three individuals involved in the breach have never come forward in public to tell what they found.
Obama discloses trip to Pakistan
But this is not the end of the story.
Two weeks after the report that Obama’s passport records had been breached, candidate Obama made the surprising disclosure at a private fundraiser April 7, 2008, that he had traveled to Pakistan during his college years.
Jake Tapper, then senior White House correspondent for ABC News, commented that Obama’s disclosure that he had taken a college trip to Pakistan was “news to most of us.” Tapper said “it was odd we hadn’t heard about it before, given all the talk of Pakistan during this campaign.”
Tapper reported that, according to the Obama campaign, Obama visited Pakistan in 1981, the year he transferred from Occidental College to Columbia University, and that he had visited his mother and sister Maya in Indonesia on the same trip.
Why was Obama disclosing now, for the first time, that he had traveled to Pakistan with his roommates from Occidental College?
Did Obama use an Indonesian passport to travel to Indonesia and Pakistan in 1981, and was he concerned the breach of his passport records might end up disclosing such information, if true?
The attempt to preempt such a disclosure might explain the timing of Obama’s decision to suddenly reveal, at least to the friends assembled for the fundraiser, the previously undisclosed trip to Indonesia and Pakistan.
“I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college,” Obama is heard saying on the poor-quality audiotape that survives from the San Francisco fundraiser. “I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”