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Top passport official to be moved after snooping issues

  • Story Highlights
  • Ann Barrett will be reassigned to special projects for passport office, official said
  • Contractors fired for "imprudent curiosity" in accessing files, said state department
  • Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apologized to presidential candidates
  • Department spokesman: management change not due to a particular cause
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From Elise Labott
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The top State Department official responsible for passport issues will be replaced after a recent controversy over contract employees snooping into passport files of the U.S. presidential candidates.

The passport files of Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain were improperly accessed.

The department's deputy spokesman, Tom Casey, would not draw a link between the reassignment of Ann Barrett and the violations.

Casey attributed the move to normal employee turnover and not "any individual incident or set of incidents."

A State Department official said that Barrett -- who was deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services -- will remain at the State Department in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, but will be reassigned to work on special projects for that office.

Her reassignment comes on the heels of the revelation that the passport files of presidential candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain were compromised by contractors hired by the department. Two of the contractors were fired for what the State Department called "imprudent curiosity" in accessing the files.

According to State Department officials, passport files contain scanned images of passport applications, birth dates and basic biographical information, records of passport renewals, and possibly citizenship information. It is unclear whether the contractors saw anything more than that basic data.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apologized to the candidates for the breaches, and the State Department's inspector general is investigating the matter.

The State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs also took heat over the past year for a backlog of 3 million passport applications resulting from new passport requirements for Americans traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

The top consular official, Assistant Secretary Maura Harty, retired in February.

Casey said neither the reassignment of Barrett nor Harty's resignation related to the various passport problems that have plagued the department.

"We've appreciated the service that Ann's rendered in her time in the position," Casey said. "These are the kinds of management changes that happen all the time in this building and I wouldn't attribute it to any particular cause." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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