The nine database criminals in Hillary Clinton's State Department

The nine database criminals in Hillary Clinton's State Department

Summary: Boredom and curiosity are a dangerous combination.


Imagine you are the 67th Secretary of State of the United States. You're the wife of the 42nd President of the United States. You were the First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001. To top it all off, you were the United States Senator from the Great State of New York from 2001 through 2008. And, oh yeah, were were also almost President yourself.

You spend your days in high-level meetings, at State receptions and balls, meeting with heads of state, dining on fine china in gilded halls.

Now, imagine you work for the Secretary of State. You are way, way, way down the pecking order. You are a simple civil servant, a drone among drones.

You work in some enclosed office somewhere, in the bowels of some government building. You're at pretty much the same pay grade you've been at since 1995. You do pretty much the same incomprehensibly boring work you've been doing since 1995. Rather than breaking bread with the world's top leaders, you eat yet another Hot Pocket at your desk, like you've done every day for the last 15 years.

You do your job well. It's an important job, like all government jobs are important to the smooth operation of the ship of state. But you, you -- you're not important at all. You just work here.

You might be Debra Sue Brown, 47, of Oxon Hill, Maryland. You've been working since September 1995 as a file clerk and a file assistant in the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Or you might be Dwayne F. Cross, 41, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. From August 2001 through February 2008, you served as an administrative assistant in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Overseas Citizens Services, Children's Issues. Then, in 2008, you became a contractor, working as a contract specialist for the acquisitions office.

Or, perhaps, you're Lawrence C. Yontz, a former foreign service officer and intelligence analyst. You could be Gerald R. Leuders, a former foreign service officer, Office of Consular Affairs watch officer and recruitment coordinator.

Or, you could have been one of at least five other State Department employees, working long hours in your dead-end job.

Whether you are Debra Sue, Dwayne, Larry, or Jerry...sometimes you got just a little bored. And then you got just a little curious.

Boredom and curiosity are a dangerous combination. It's a wonder my parents survived my pre-teen years.

Anyway, as it turns out Debra Sue, Dwayne, and the rest all had access to a particularly interesting database system, the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).

The passport system has a lot of interesting data on it. According to the Justice Department, PIERS contains:

...a photograph of the passport applicant as well as certain personal information including the applicant’s full name, date and place of birth, current address, telephone numbers, parent information, spouse’s name and emergency contact information.

Our story takes an interesting turn because all nine of these State Department employees, apparently independently, discovered they could get into PIERS and, you know, look stuff up.

And they did. They each looked up between 60 and 150 different individuals: celebrities, actors, comics, musicians, politicians, athletes, models, members of the media, family members, friends, and so on and so on and so on.

As it turns out, none of the nine worked with each other or colluded in any way. They each, independently, discovered a way -- when they were desperately, mind-numbingly bored -- to entertain themselves with PIERS.

Also, as it also turns out, this is illegal. Dwayne was sentenced in 2009 to 12 months of probation and 100 hours of community service. Last Thursday, Debra Sue felt the long arm of the law come down on her. She got 50 hours of community service.

Hillary's State Department

So why am I telling you about this, and why did I introduce it with the story of Hillary Clinton in the beginning? It's simple, really. Yesterday, when I ran the Palin piece, a lot of our more conservative readers felt I was siding with the lefty liberals.

Today, I tried to find a government and technology story that the right wingers could sink their teeth into, just to be fair and balanced. I found a lot of good stuff -- including for some reason the strange and completely-unrelated-to-anything detail that Iceland has decided to ban strip clubs -- but nothing that was both tech and government and would appeal to the loyal opposition.

Hillary always seems to be fair game. When this story of illegal database access by State Department employees came to light, I decided to make it my gift to you.

I'm sure this is all Hillary's fault, somehow. Discuss in the TalkBack below. Play nice.

Topics: Government US, Storage, Software, Hardware, CXO, Government, Enterprise Software, Data Management, Data Centers, IT Employment


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Let me be the first then...

    ...Obviously you're a Left-Wing, Neo-Con, Fascist, Commie-Pinko with a bent towards fundamentalist religion (Did I get them all?), who takes sides in every piece you write. :D

    That OK?
    • How can you actually say that?

      Wow, man, that is so out of line. I am sorry, but after reading this piece, I just cannot get my brain around your lack lustering and volatile condemnation.

      I can only assume in some measure that you are a paranoid and obviously, a contrite person.

      Do you posses any critical thinking abilities?

      I think not...

      Allow me to enlighten you:

      Critical thinking for me, involves determining the meaning and significance of what I personal observe or expressed. In concerning a given extrapolation or as to an argument, I determine whether there is adequate justification to accept the conclusion as true or as factual.

      Critical thinking gives me due deliberation to the evidence presented, given, or in some cases, suggested.

      For me, it is a logical progression of judgment, the relevance of criteria, or simply as to the subject matter in making the discussion and as naturally as I careful and deliberately can through my determination.

      Based upon my own methods suggested, I can successfully in measure; If I should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a claim, or substance about a claim and the degree of my confidence in this material as if it is valid or not.

      Not only is logic as one of my applicable methods or techniques in forming my personal judgment, but I also relies on the applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem or issues that requires a broader range of faculties such as, clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth of the matter, not to exclude significance and fairness.

      It is these things that affect me in reading and writing, but as a human being.
      As far as my writing skills and styles in which I write, it is for the most part, essential and as important as grammar, spelling, and structure of the written word itself. In my experience, I have read a good many news articles and blog posts that are littered with the former distractions; however, the critical thinking is clearly evident. In this, more cases than not, I find it as ?saving grace? from what could be otherwise, a wash.

      In my opinion, I believe that critical thinking like the literary arts, is in fact, an art in itself and I believe to be used as a judicial process in everything we communicate as well as read.

      In these things, you clearly are amiss...
      Black Label Society
      • You have some deep issues.

        I don't think you caught his sarcasm, dude. Take a chill pill.
      • Hey genius...

        He was being satirical.

        And that sound you heard was it going right over your head.
        Hallowed are the Ori
      • ohhh, boy... THIS why they accuse geeks of having no sense of humor?!?
      • I think that was an extraordinarily...

        dubious piece of double-speak in which you used a tremendous amount of verbiage to say nothing.

        Reasonably well done!
      • Say What??

        Aside from completely missing the point of It_Guy_z's satirical post, you have additional issues using English (or at least the American dialect thereof). If it's your second language, I apologize; you do quite well. If it's your mother tongue, you need to go back to school.
      • Hey dumb-a$$...I WAS KIDDING!!

        Me thinks maybe you're DRINKING a bit too much Black Label.

        Get a life...PLEASE! :-(

        • I think you will find that...

          "Black Label Society" refers to his/her cultural heritage rather than drink preference.

          Most of us, here, are Americans, Brits, and Aussies.
      • Check Out All The Sock Puppets Here!

        Okay, okay, I fully admit, I lost it on the original comment on this person's sarcasim, but why all the freaking sock-puppets?

        If anyone should get a life it is these idiots. Also, thank you from the original author coming back and explaining.

        The troll on the english, you are a complete and utter fool. Do you understand that?

        Is that simple enough English for you, do you have an understanding of that?

        And the idiot that mentioned "double-talk" need to quit the day-quill and sober up there simpleton.

        For God sakes... Meya Cuppa already.
        Black Label Society
        • Um... not to pile on, but...

          That's "mea culpa". Latin for "my fault".
          • Who knows..maybe he/she works for Starbucks. (nt)

        • Stevie Wonder could've seen that was sarcasm...

          ...that's why so many people piled on.

          • Good catch! [nt]

        • Can you not read? Let me restate...

          I think that was an extraordinarily dubious piece of [b][i]double-speak[/i][/b] in which you used a tremendous amount of verbiage to say nothing.

          Nothing has changed.
        • DayQuil?? Is that you, DTS?

          [b] [/b]
  • RE: The nine database criminals in Hillary Clinton's State Department

    What inference can we draw from the "punishment"? Community service, probation?
    To me it says the breaches were fairly insignificant. The real issue should be "How far down the chain should we allow access to sensitive data?"
    • Excellent Questions...

      You posed two exceptional questions, none that I personally have an answer for. Thank you.
      Black Label Society
    • Punishment?

      What about the root cause... Identity and Access Management, Database security, security programming standards, code walkthrough, quality testing. - Punish the end user for someone elses' failures
    • The "real" real issue

      I think the real issue here, even more than access, is that if there are that many people who are that excruciatingly bored with their jobs, maybe the department (as with probably every other department in the guv'mint) might be "somewhat" overstaffed.