Candidates’ Security Breach: Watergate Part II or Simply a Big “Whoops”?
On Thursday, March 21, the Washington Times unearthed a serious security breach within the State Department concerning the passport files of presidential hopefuls Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and John McCain.
In addition to providing excellent fodder for political journalists weary of the constant campaign trail bickering, these revelations have sent various governmental offices into damage control mode.
Senator Obama’s file was breached on three occasions—in January, February, and March. Senators McCain and Clinton’s files were viewed last summer.
The New York Times reported that State Department officials had discovered the breaches as early as last summer but failed to inform the candidates.
The Washington Post quotes State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, stated that while the breaches were flagged,
“That information didn’t rise up to senior management levels […] that should have happened.”
According to the International Herald Tribune, when a reporter noted in passing, that “the whole story looks like a new Watergate scandal.” McCormak became irate telling the reporter,
“You know what? You know what? That is so outrageous,” he said. “You just lost your privilege.”
According to the Tribune, McCormack then refused to recognize the reporter for the duration of the press conference.
Wait a second–why the freak out? As you may remember from your high school American government class, the Watergate scandal occurred during the Nixon administration and led to his impeachment and resignation. Prior to the 1972 elections, a break in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in DC, revealed a network of corruption and espionage operated from the Nixon Whitehouse. Refering to this episode as a “New Watergate”, therefore, throws blame on to the executive branch
It doesn’t help, moreover, that a similar breach occurred during the 1992 presidential race in which a State Department file on Bill Clinton was accessed.
Several things are alarming about this story. Firstly, it reminds us how much of our information is available at a simple keystroke for various strangers. Secondly, it raises questions regarding the old “Big Brother” paranoia; e.g. how much does the government really know about us and what do they do with that information? Finally, the breakdown in communications within the State Department over such sensitive information shakes what little trust one has in the government’s discretion with our private affairs– especially in the digital age.
Who knows what place this scandal will occupy within the annals of American history? Will it reveal a larger conspiracy or will it simply be another strange blip on the political screen?
As always, the eloquent Senator Obama sums it up the best:
“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.”