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Profile: Sean McCormack
Positions that Sean McCormack has held:
- Spokesman for the National Security Council
June 13, 2003
“We have acknowledged that some documents detailing a transaction between Iraq and Niger were forged and we no longer give them credence. They were, however, only once piece of evidence in a larger body of evidence suggesting Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Africa. The issue of Iraq’s pursuit of uranium in Africa is supported by multiple sources of intelligence. The other sources of evidence did and do support the president’s statement.”
[Washington Post, 6/13/2003; Associated Press, 6/13/2003]
Sean McCormack was a participant or observer in the following events:
Sean McCormack, spokesman for the National Security Council, says: “We have acknowledged that some documents detailing a transaction between Iraq and Niger were forged and we no longer give them credence,” he says. “They were, however, only one piece of evidence in a larger body of evidence suggesting Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Africa. The issue of Iraq’s pursuit of uranium in Africa is supported by multiple sources of intelligence. The other sources of evidence did and do support the president’s statement.” [Washington Post, 6/13/2003; Associated Press, 6/13/2003]
Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell and says that the ICRC has “serious concerns about detainees in Iraq,” though according to a senior State Department official, he does not detail them. During his visit, Kellenberger also meets with Condoleezza Rice and, reportedly, with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, though it is unclear what precisely is discussed. White House Spokesman Sean McCormack will later say that “Iraq was not mentioned” during the meeting with Rice. Rather the main topic of discussion was Guantanamo, he says. [Observer, 5/9/2004; Baltimore Sun, 5/12/2004]
Franklin Miller. [Source: The Cohen Group]A national security official who worked alongside counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke on September 11 openly disputes Clarke’s account of events in the White House Situation Room on 9/11. [Sydney Morning Herald, 3/31/2004] Clarke has put forward his account in the dramatic first chapter of his just-published book Against All Enemies, which has already topped the Amazon.com bestsellers list. [Reuters, 3/26/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/30/2004] His critic, Franklin Miller, is a senior aide to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who admits that he was often a bureaucratic rival of Clarke. Miller tells the New York Times that almost none of the conversations described in the first chapter of Clarke’s book match his own recollection of events. [New York Times, 3/30/2004]
In his book, Clarke recalls the Secret Service requesting fighter escorts to protect Air Force One after it took off from Sarasota, Florida, where the president had been visiting an elementary school. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 6] However, Miller says a young aide in the Situation Room had in fact made this request to him. He had initially told the aide he had seen too many movies, but after reconsidering had asked Rice whether to call up fighter support and she told him to go ahead. [New York Times, 3/30/2004]
Clarke’s book claims that Miller had urged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to take a helicopter out of the burning Pentagon and Rumsfeld responded, “I am too goddamn old to go to an alternate site.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8-9] Miller says he never spoke to Rumsfeld on 9/11. [New York Times, 3/30/2004]
Clarke recounts how the Situation Room Deputy Director Ralph Seigler had called out, “Secret Service reports a hostile aircraft 10 minutes out,” left the room, and then returned soon after to report, “Hostile aircraft eight minutes out” (see (After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 9-10] Yet Miller and Sean McCormack, the spokesman of the National Security Council who was also in the Situation Room that morning, do not recall this. They say that Seigler himself denies making such an announcement, though Seigler declines to be interviewed by the New York Times about it. [New York Times, 3/30/2004]
Clarke claims that at one point he had gathered his staff from the Situation Room around him and told them to leave for their own safety, but they declined (see (Shortly After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He had written that Miller then “grabbed a legal pad and said, ‘All right. If you’re staying, sign your name here,’” so a list could be e-mailed out of the building. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 12] But Miller says, “That paragraph was a complete fiction,” adding that he made no such statement. According to Miller, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had instructed the staff members to keep the Situation Room running and there had never been any question about whether they could stay or go. [New York Times, 3/30/2004]
Miller says Clarke “did a hell of a job that day. We all did.” But he says Clarke’s account is “a much better screenplay than reality was.” The New York Times is unable to contact Clarke to get his response to Miller’s allegations. [New York Times, 3/30/2004]
MSNBC reports that the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak has heard testimony from UN Ambassador John Bolton about a State Department memo identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official (see May 29, 2003 and June 10, 2003). The date of Bolton’s appearance before the grand jury is unclear. At the time of the memo, Bolton was an undersecretary in the State Department. [MSNBC, 7/21/2005] Bolton failed to mention his grand jury appearance, or his involvement in the Plame Wilson leak, during Senate confirmation hearings for his nomination as UN ambassador. [New York Times, 7/22/2005] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack will deny that Bolton testified before the grand jury. [Newsmax, 7/28/2005] A day later, the State Department will acknowledge that Bolton was interviewed over his role in the administration’s Iraq-Niger uranium claims, another fact he omitted during his nomination hearings, but will not admit to his appearance before the grand jury. [Associated Press, 7/29/2005]
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says that, despite reports to the contrary, there are no plans to establish direct diplomatic contact with Iran. “[T]here is no change in our policy with respect to Iran. I think that over the past, if anything, over the past weeks and months you have seen an even tougher-minded US policy as well as a tougher-minded policy from the international community with respect to Iran’s behavior,” he says. A recent State Department briefing paper reportedly suggested establishing direct diplomatic contact with Iran in an effort to reopen negotiations with the European Union. [Associated Press, 10/6/2005; US Department of State, 10/6/2005]
US officials deny charges leveled by Amnesty International that US interrogators tortured prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison. White House officials also say that the administration intends to close the facility as soon as it is practical to do so. Amnesty International’s most recent annual report faults the US for allegedly abandoning human rights concerns in its pursuit of terrorists. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Amnesty’s charges are false, and says while the administration wants to close Guantanamo, critics have given no answers as to what to do with the detainees. “At some point in the future, would we all like to see Guantanamo Bay closed down? Absolutely,” he says. “But at the moment, there are dangerous people being held in Guantanamo Bay. These are people that were picked up on battlefields, planning for, engaged in various acts of terrorism around the world. These are individuals who pose a threat potentially not only to American citizens, but citizens from Europe as well as around the world.” America is doing the world a service by detaining these dangerous terrorists, he says (see February 7, 2006). [Voice of America, 5/23/2006]
Secretary of State Rice says that she does not recall the meeting on July 10, 2001, when CIA Director Tenet and other officials briefed her about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 10, 2001). “What I am quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States, and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2006] Rice says she has no recollection of what she variously calls “the supposed meeting” and “the emergency so-called meeting.” [Editor & Publisher, 10/1/2006; McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] The Washington Post comments that “Rice added to the confusion… by strongly suggesting that the meeting may never have occurred at all—even though administration officials had conceded for several days that it had.” Hours after Rice’s latest denial, the State Department confirms that documents show Rice did attend such a meeting on that date. However, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack then says, “The briefing was a summary of the threat reporting from the previous weeks. There was nothing new.” The Washington Post notes that when it was pointed out to McCormack that Rice asked for the briefing to be shown to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft (see July 11-17, 2001), “McCormack was unable to explain why Rice felt the briefing should be repeated if it did not include new material.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2006]
Barack Obama. [Source: Public domain via US Senate]The State Department confirms that three of its contract employees improperly accessed the private passport files of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two of the three were fired and a third was subjected to as-yet-unstated disciplinary procedures. The Obama campaign quickly demands a “complete investigation” of who accessed the files, who they may have shared the information with, and what their possible motivations may have been. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refuses to identify the three employees, and says that there is no reason as yet to believe that the three break-ins were motivated by anything but “imprudent curiosity.” The State Department’s inspector general is conducting an internal investigation. The Justice Department is monitoring the situation, and may launch its own investigation. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008; Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Senior State Department officials claim not to have known about the violations of Obama’s passport files until very recently. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008] Patrick Kennedy, the Undersecretary of State for Management and the department official responsible for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the office which oversees such records, also refuses to divulge any information about the contractors who broke into Obama’s records. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008]
Bureau Should Have Informed Senior Officials - Kennedy says that his department erred in not informing senior State Department officials about the violations. “I will fully acknowledge this information should have been passed up the line,” he says. “It was dealt with at the office level.” Kennedy also says that the political affiliations of the three contract employees are not known, but “[n]ow that this has arisen, this becomes a germane question, and that will be something for the appropriate investigation to look into.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Kennedy says he will brief Obama’s campaign staff today on the situation. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] Kennedy is new to the post; before him, the bureau chief was Maura Harty, who served as a US ambassador to Paraguay under the Clinton administration. [Huffington Post, 3/21/2008]
Breaches Immediately Detected - The files were accessed on January 9, February 21, and March 14 (see March 21, 2008). All three improper accesses were immediately detected through a computerized monitoring system, and supervisors were notified shortly after each access. But no one in the Obama campaign was notified until today, a week after the third break-in. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008]
Breaches May Constitute a Crime - The employees who broke into Obama’s files had access to his basic personal information, including his Social Security number, as well as his travel information, including information submitted by various US consulates from the nations to which Obama traveled (see March 21, 2008). Obama’s Social Security number can be used to pull a vast amount of information about Obama’s finances and other private, protected information. While the breaches themselves are not illegal (though they are violations of State Department protocols), if any information from the files were shared with anyone else, that would likely constitute a violation of US privacy laws.
Compared with 1991 Breach - In 1991, President George H. W. Bush’s re-election campaign illegally broached Democratic contender Bill Clinton’s passport files for political reasons; that incident prompted an investigation led by independent counsel Joseph diGenova. DiGenova says of the Obama breach that because the two contract employees who were fired were not State Department employees, it will be more difficult for the acting inspector general of the department to force them to testify. “My guess is if he tries to talk to them now, in all likelihood they will take the Fifth,” he says, referring to the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. DiGenova says it is improbable that senior State Department officials, perhaps including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, could not have known about the breaches. “Is inconceivable to me that civil servants working in a department which was part of a scandal in 1992 on this very subject would not understand that it was a management necessity to inform superiors,” he says. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] DiGenova’s investigations brought no charges against anyone in the Bush passport break-in. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph diGenova, Maura Harty, George Herbert Walker Bush, Sean McCormack, Condoleezza Rice, Patrick Kennedy, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Barack Obama
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
After the State Department reveals that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s passport file had been inappropriately accessed three times between January and March (see March 20, 2008), the department also reveals that the passport files of the other two major presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton (see March 21, 2008) and Republican John McCain, have also been breached. The same State Department contract employee who accessed Obama’s file also accessed McCain’s file, says department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack says that the department learned of the McCain breach “earlier this year.” He says that employee has been reprimanded but not yet fired. “We are reviewing our options with that person” and their employment status, he says. McCain says that any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation, and “corrective action should be taken.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008; BBC, 3/21/2008] It is not known what information, if any, was obtained from McCain’s file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
The State Department confirms that Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) passport file was also inappropriately accessed, a day after the department revealed that Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport file was breached three times since January 2008 (see March 20, 2008). Obama and Clinton are battling for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has apologized to Obama for the breach, “I told him that I was sorry, and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed.” Clinton says that she was told her passport file was breached sometime in 2007. Rice says she only learned of the Obama breach on March 20, 2008, the same day the news of the violations broke in the media. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Clinton’s file was inadvertently accessed during a “training exercise.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/21/2008] Rice promises a “full investigation” into the Obama passport breach, and presumably the Clinton breach as well, though she has not spoken directly of the Clinton passport breach. “[N]one of us wants to have a circumstance in which any American’s passport file is looked at in an unauthorized way. And in this case it should have been known to senior management. It was not, to my knowledge. And we also want to take every step that we can to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Rice says. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] It is unknown what information, if any, was obtained from Clinton’s passport file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
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