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Fourth State Department Worker Pleads to Passport Snooping

A fourth person who has worked for the U.S. Department of State has pleaded guilty to a charge connected to illegally accessing confidential electronic passport records, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

William A. Celey, 27, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one count of unauthorized computer access.

Since mid-December, three other State Department employees have been sentenced to probation and community service or fines for illegally snooping on passport application files.

Celey worked as a contract employee for the State Department as a file assistant, from August 2003 to July 2004, the DOJ said. Celey had access to State Department computer databases, including the Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS), which contains all imaged passport applications dating back to 1994.

The imaged passport applications on PIERS contain the applicant's full name, date and place of birth, current address, telephone numbers, parent information, spouse's name and emergency contact information. These confidential files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and access by State Department employees is limited to official government duties.

Celey acknowledged in his plea that between June 22 and July 15, 2004, he logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of more than 75 celebrities, actors, models, musicians, athletes, record producers and a politician. Celey had no official government reason to access and view these passport applications, but his sole purpose in viewing them was "idle curiosity," the DOJ said.

Celey was among a group of about five State Department employees or contractors who were targeted for prosecution after March 2008 news reports of employees there accessing the electronic passport files of three presidential candidates, Senators John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The inspector general's office at the State Department later found that there had been widespread breaches of PIERS. Obama was elected president in November, and he appointed Clinton secretary of state in charge of the State Department.

The inspector general's office looked at the passport files of 150 politicians, entertainers and athletes and found that 127 of those passports had been accessed at least once between September 2002 and March 2008. Those passport files were accessed 4,148 times during that period, and one person's passport was searched 356 times by 77 users.

Those reports prompted members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to call for prosecutions of the passport snoopers.

Celey is the fourth current or former State Department employee to plead guilty in this investigation.

In September, Lawrence C. Yontz, a former foreign service officer and intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing nearly 200 passport files. Yontz was sentenced on Dec. 19 to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service.

In January, Dwayne F. Cross, a former administrative assistant and contract specialist, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 150 confidential passport files. On March 23, Cross was sentenced to 12 months of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.

In January, Gerald R. Lueders, a former foreign service officer, watch officer and recruitment coordinator, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accessing more than 50 confidential passport files. Lueders was sentenced Wednesday to one year of probation and ordered to pay a US$5,000 fine.

Celey is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 23.

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