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Cyberporn scandal hits Commerce Department
Posted By Paul Sperry On 09/27/2000 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
WASHINGTON — The security official in charge of investigating the
private backgrounds of Commerce Department employees has been suspended
for downloading and storing pornography on his government computer,
WorldNetDaily has learned.
It’s the latest case of a federal employee misusing government property
for personal thrills. Over the past few months, the Clinton
administration has suffered a rash of smut-related computer violations.
Several senior officials at the Housing and Urban Development Department
also were recently suspended after FBI agents and other investigators
discovered that they had downloaded Internet porn last year and used
their HUD computers to e-mail the illicit
materials, according to the Associated Press.
In both the Commerce and HUD cases, officials were punished after news
broke early last month that
dozens of White House staffers, including
some senior officials, were caught downloading real-time videos of
As first reported Aug. 9 by WorldNetDaily, the megabyte porn files made up most of the early 1999 traffic coming into the Internet firewall protecting the White House computer network from hackers and viruses.
The suspended Commerce official was escorted out of the main building here Aug. 14, after investigators found a “monolithic” stash of porn files on his computer. The scandal was supposed to be kept secret.
But a Commerce employee recently alerted government oversight committees in both the Senate and House to “chronic” porn, sexual-harassment, computer-security and other security problems in the department’s own security office.
A House Government Reform Committee staffer told WorldNetDaily that the Commerce employee decided to blow the whistle after reading the report of White House cyberporn abuses on this newssite.
Just one employee has been punished in Commerce’s internal investigation. Security Specialist Mike Seely, who has been conducting the department’s personnel background checks for the past several years, was suspended with pay last month. Seely also has vetted high-level political transfers from the White House.
He allegedly violated a Commerce Internet-use policy, instated in August 1998, that prohibits “obtaining or viewing sexually explicit material.”
Counterintelligence agents at Commerce, while investigating another security matter, uncovered a stash of pornography residing on one of the department’s e-mail servers, sources say. And that led them to Seely’s computer.
“The pornography on Mr. Seely’s office computer was monolithic,” said a former Commerce official who wished to go unnamed. “It was also on the intranet, the local area network used by the department,” which posed a security risk for the entire system.
“He had files with names on them, and in those files were certain pictures and graphics that he was maintaining of all these women that he had working for him,” he added. And he allegedly juxtaposed them with pornographic material he pulled off the Internet of naked women posing in sexual positions and performing sex acts.
Several female employees have lodged sexual-harassment complaints against Seely, the official said, but they’ve allegedly been “overlooked” by the security office director.
“In the case of an intern who was there just this past summer — a young girl, about 17 or 18 years old — her mother came in complaining about touching and different things that he was doing,” he said. “And that was just kind of let go, you know, like ‘We’ll talk to him.’ The daughter eventually quit.”
Commerce’s network administrator and its computer-security chief obtained proof of Seely’s Internet and computer activities by copying the server files onto CD-ROMs.
“They confronted him (with the evidence) on Monday, August 14,” said the official. “By the end of the day, he was escorted out of the building.”
Commerce refused to comment on the incident.
“The Privacy Act prohibits us from commenting on any current employee,” said Pat Woodward, Commerce’s deputy press secretary.
Pressed about it, she insisted: “We can’t comment on any of the questions that you raised. I checked with our general counsel people.”
She claims that she also can’t talk in broader terms about the investigation.
“Since it has to do with the office of security, I’m sure I can’t comment on that either,” Woodward snapped, before abruptly hanging up the phone.
A security office staffer confirmed that Seely is on leave. He says he doesn’t know when he’ll be back. Attempts to reach Seely for comment were unsuccessful.
The security office is run by Dave Holmes, an ex-Secret Service agent who headed Vice President Al Gore’s security detail at the White House.
“He knew of this perversion of (Seely’s) but just allowed it to continue,” claimed the Commerce official.
And he only “reluctantly” suspended him, he added, “because it just became so obvious that more than just he and a couple of people knew about it.”
The official maintained that Holmes has swept other problems in the security office “under the rug.”
“He’s been able to, just through his connections, keep every derogatory thing that’s happened there under the rug,” he said. “And that’s enraged quite a few of the security folks there.”
Holmes’ staff said he was out of the office and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Hey, the boss does it
Meanwhile, across 15th Street at the White House, there is still no indication that any staffers responsible for a recent “uptick” in web-porn surfing have been “punished,” as White House spokesman Jake Siewart promised last month.
“We’re not certain who did it, but we’re starting to sort it out and those people will be punished, too,” Siewart said Aug. 10.
Asked yesterday for an update on the investigation, Siewart told WorldNetDaily: “I’ll ask our folks. I haven’t heard anything new. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything new. I just haven’t checked with them in a while. I can check on that.”
He says porn-traffic volume has increased recently because White House staffers are getting around network porn filters — installed for the first time last year — by surfing new porn sites. Some 9,000 porn sites now dot the Web.
As a result of last year’s probe, Siewart last month claimed a “handful” of employees were “reprimanded” and “one was suspended without pay” for getting their thrills on the taxpayer’s dime. Siewart didn’t elaborate.
But White House employees argue the only staffer they’re aware of being punished wasn’t a staffer at all, but a Northrop Grumman contractor.
And, of the dozens of staffers caught downloading porn, none were fired. In fact, one of the worst offenders, a senior official, was allowed to stay on the job after claiming he had a porn addiction and couldn’t help himself.
“That’s typical of the current administration,” the Commerce official said. “I mean, once the boss (President Clinton) is doing it, it’s free game.”
He says the president — who sets the tone in the White House, and throughout his Cabinet, by his own behavior — hasn’t exactly discouraged his staff from engaging in illicit and reckless conduct on the job.
Clinton had adulterous sex with an intern in the Oval Office, not to mention late-night phone sex on an unsecured line in the White House residence. Also, according to a federal law-enforcement agent, Clinton has watched porno flicks in the East Wing theater.
Amazingly, some of his staff were brazenly downloading porn video files — including ones showing sex acts with gays, farm animals and teens — at the same time Congress was debating impeaching Clinton over perjury and obstruction charges tied not just to his intern affair, but to a related sexual-harassment lawsuit filed against him.
On moral grounds, the White House’s relatively lenient response to on-the-job porn-watching might have been expected. But such disregard for security demands harsher action, experts say.
“The porn industry is notorious for (dropping) cookies and mousetraps (into e-mail accounts),” said Bruce Taylor, chief counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families in Washington. “It’s like giving the Mafia a phone tap on a government computer.”
And bringing hard-core porn into the White House isn’t just a security breach, he says. It’s illegal.
Federal law makes it a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, for “any person who knowingly receives any material that contains child pornography by computer.”
At a minimum, downloading porn using government equipment is worthy of being fired, asserts Taylor, who prosecuted porn cases as a senior Justice Department lawyer from 1989 to 1995.
Misappropriation of a federal asset is also a crime. Just ask scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the California nuclear-arms research lab owned by the Energy Department.
In 1994, two managers were busted downloading and storing so much web-porn that it took up “gigabytes” of space on the government computer network, a Livermore spokesman says.
Both managers were fired, and one was charged with misusing government property, a felony.
“It had nothing to do with the morality of pornography,” explained lab spokesman David Schwoegler. “They took a government asset of such a value and made it unavailable to others.”
Another potential legal aspect involves misappropriation of public funds. Most porn sites won’t let you download video files without payment.
Did any White House employees use government credit cards to access porn sites? Siewart says he isn’t sure and will have to look into it.
White House spin
The White House has made a number of other claims about its recent cybersmut problems that don’t hold up to scrutiny, staffers and contractors familiar with the case have told WorldNetDaily.
“We’ve made it quite clear to everyone what the rules are,” White House spokesman Joe Lockhart claimed last month.
Seiwart stressed that the White House has a “no personal use” policy regarding computers. He said that after last year’s problem, employees must now follow a “strict no photo policy,” meaning that e-mailing any photos is forbidden.
But White House employees point out that the porn problem has to do with surfing and downloading, not e-mailing.
They say the White House made it sound as if it has put in place a policy expressly prohibiting employee porn-surfing.
Not so, employees say. Its Internet policy warns against inappropriate use, but still doesn’t define what that is — unlike the Commerce policy and most corporate policies.
“If they had put it in writing that you will be terminated if you are ID’d using computers to surf porn, and (they) made everyone sign it, then most people would not even pursue it,” said one employee who insisted on remaining anonymous. “But they haven’t done that.”
A former top official who has worked in both the Bush and Clinton White Houses notes that all new hires are supposed to go through an orientation program before they get their e-mail accounts. The training also stresses proper etiquette in conducting official government business and warns how inappropriate behavior can be used against you — “how you can be turned,” he said. Staffers were made to sign an acknowledgment.
“They don’t give a s–t now,” the former official said.
Siewart also claimed last year’s White House smutfest was “fairly minimal” and involved only a “handful” of staffers.
“It’s like any workplace,” he said.
In fact, the investigation snared “dozens” of suspects and involved an investigative team of several workers, not including the San Francisco-based security-software contractor who discovered the high-volume downloading while upgrading the firewall, according to employees and contractors close to the case.
And the probe turned up at least a dozen serious, repeat offenders.
Lockhart said the perpetrators were low-level White House people.
“No one you ever heard of,” Siewart told one reporter.
Trying to assure USA Today that no one of high rank was involved, Siewart fingered cleaning crews and security staff for some of the on-line ogling — even though janitors don’t have passcodes to the computers.
But employees and contractors have said they heard and saw big names.
“I saw the names,” said one employee. “There were a handful of big names.”
One habitual offender, a GS-15 executive in the Office of Administration, looked at porn for at least an hour each day, the employee says. He was written up but not punished, and is still working in the White House.
Another perpetrator, a Clinton appointee known inside and outside the Beltway, is an assistant to the president in the West Wing.
(WorldNetDaily will not publish perpetrators’ names without official documentation. Sources who promised documentation have been terrified by a White House security clampdown following publication of the initial stories last month.
(The FBI was called in — not to ID the porn offenders, but to ID the leakers. As a result, sources are now so intimidated by this administration that they say they are afraid not only for their jobs, but for their security clearances, their ability to work in government again — and even for their lives.
(Congress can subpoena the firewall logs that show plainly who the perpetrators were in 1999. But so far, it has not acted.)
In following up WorldNetDaily’s story, at least one news organization reported that, according to Siewart, “the surfing took place mostly at night.”
More White House spin, employees and contractors say.
“It definitely was not just during the night,” according to one source who has seen the firewall logs and times the files were saved on individuals’ computers.
“And most of the night porn-surfing was done in the White House Communications office, where they monitor the press to prepare responses in the morning,” the source said.
If any high-level names did turn up in the probe, White House spin doctors have proffered, there’s no way to be sure they did the downloading. After all, they say, one of their aides could have accessed their account using their passcode.
But sources say computer-security experts and other investigators conducted a thorough probe that left little room for doubt. And the probe took into account the unlikely (and equally disturbing) possibility of officials sharing their computer passcodes.
After they pulled the firewall logs from the servers, they traced porn-site URL (essentially the Internet zip codes) traffic back to individual workstations. Then they checked individual accounts.
Next, they looked at what time of day the downloaded porn files were saved on the machines. They then checked security-card scan logs to see if the suspected individuals were in the building at the time the porn was downloaded.
Once they established opportunity, they asked the individuals if they shared their passcode with others, giving them the chance to blame someone else.
If they did, investigators checked building logs to see if the other person they named would have had the chance to download the files. If so, then they interrogated that person.
“It’s not the gun in the hand, but it’s definitely the gun-powder residue all over the hand,” one White House employee who worked on the investigation has told WorldNetDaily.
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