Security

Another Passport Snooper Pleads Gulity

A second former employee of the U.S. Department of State has admitted to illegally accessing hundreds of electronic files containing the confidential passport records of politicians, celebrities and even his own friends -- snooping activities that were discovered early last year and described by an agency official as being motivated by "imprudent curiosity."

Dwayne Cross, 41, of Upper Marlboro, Md., who until October worked as a contract specialist for the State Department's acquisitions office, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington this week to a misdemeanor count of unauthorized computer access. He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 23, according to a statement issued by the Department of Justice .

Lawrence Yontz, another former State Department employee who pleaded guilty to identical charges in September, was sentenced last month to one year of probation and 50 hours of community service.

The names of the individuals whose records were snooped on by Yontz and Cross haven't been released. But at the time of Yontz's guilty plea, a State Department spokesman said the case was related to the disclosure last March that three contract employees working for the agency had improperly accessed the passport records of high-profile individuals, including then-Sen. Barack Obama and fellow presidential candidates John McCain and Hillary Clinton .

Although the illegal access was repeatedly flagged by an in-house computer system designed to catch such violations, the supervisors of the involved employees downplayed the alerts. Two of the contract workers -- thought to be Yontz and Cross -- were later fired, while the third was disciplined but allowed to continue working for the State Department.

According to court documents, Cross initially was employed as an administrative assistant in the agency's Diplomatic Security Abduction Unit. He worked in that capacity from 2001 to last February, then rejoined the agency as a contract employee in March. His illegal accessing of files in the State Department's Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS) took place over a period lasting more than five years, from January 2002 through August 2007, the documents say.

In his plea agreement, Cross acknowledged that he had legitimate access to PIERS in the normal course of his duties. The database contains passport information and all personnel records maintained by the State Department as well as images of passport applications dating back to 1994. The images include data such as an applicant's full name, date and place of birth, current address, phone numbers and parents' names.

The court documents say that Cross illegally accessed records despite being notified about the confidential nature of the data in warning banners on his computer screen and being informed by the system that his activities in PIERS would be logged. In the guilty plea, Cross admitted to accessing the records even after acknowledging on his computer that he had read and understood all of the warnings.

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