On Tuesday the New York Times reported: “A former C.I.A. officer running for Congress accused a super PAC aligned with Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday of improperly obtaining her entire federal security clearance application – a highly sensitive document containing extensive personal information – and then using it for political purposes,”
By Wednesday BuzzFeed News ran the headline: In An Unprecedented Move, The US Postal Service Released A Former CIA Officer’s Security Application To A Republican Group.
Tuesday: The Story
Abigail Spanberger, who won her Democrat primary in Virginia and will face incumbent Rep. Dave Brat (R) in November for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, went public on Tuesday with the allegation via the New York Times after sending a cease-and-desist letter to the super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund (C.L.F.) which is known to be aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, because, she says, “I personally don’t see that they only have my documents…I just happen to be the canary in the coal mine and we had someone bring it to my attention.”
(See posted at the end of this story for the statement Spanberger released Tuesday night on her social media Twitter account after the New York Times’ published its report.)
Spanberger sent the cease-and-desist letter to C.L.F.’s executive director Corry Bliss demanding that C.L.F. “destroy and cease use” of her SF-86 security clearance application within 24 hours.
“I write as a former civil servant and as an American, in shock and anger, that you have tried to exploit my service to our country by exposing my most personal information in the name of politics,” the letter reads, adding that she had “clear evidence” that C.L.F. provided her application document to “at least one news outlet,” and told them she knew of no legal means they could have the document.
In the NYT’s report Spanberger told them she already had her suspicions that something like this had been done after getting wind that “Republican-aligned” groups conducting push-polls and had been asking respondents about certain parts of her background after a supporter told her about receiving such a call.
Spanberger is referring to what she said she suspected is “the group was trying to exploit a brief time when she taught at a private Islamic school funded by Saudi Arabia,” which was the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, Virginia, an “international baccalaureate program.”
Spanberger told the NYT’s that a supporter told her they had received a call asking the supporter, “would she be less likely to support Ms. Spanberger if she knew that the candidate had taught at a school funded by the Saudi royal family that had ‘numerous students arrested for terrorism’.”
And then at a political event earlier this month, Spanberger says, a reporter from the Associated Press approached and showed her a copy of her SF-86 C.I.A. security clearance form telling her C.L.F. had provided the document “on a background basis” which is used to imply a reporter would not “typically” name their source, but then showed her the email and she confirmed “she was “100 percent” certain it was hers.” The form, she said, had personal information about her medical and work background, and her Social Security number, among other information.
Spanberger said the application she saw was one of two applications she had completed for government positions, one for a law enforcement postal inspector’s position at the Postal Service and the other with the C.I.A. when she first applied to work for the federal government in 2002.
The C.L.F. released a statement to the allegations on Tuesday through their spokeswoman Courtney Alexander “strongly denying” the allegations, but did not deny having the document, only claiming they received it through a “Freedom of Information Act request filed with the United States Postal Service by America Rising, a separate Republican-aligned research firm.”
It was C.L.F. who released Spanberger’s cease-and-desist letter in their statement with a title, “What is Abigail Spanberger Hiding?” and calling Spanberger’s letter “a desparate attempt to prevent Virginia voters from learning about her record and background” and the information they had “was obtained through legal channels.”
With their statement the group released parts of Spanberger’s application, now partially redacted, along with a copy of a letter dated July 30, 2018, with a United States Postal Service Human Resources (HQ) Employee Resource Management letterhead that read: “To Whom It May Concern” to “Please find enclosed the entire Official Personnel Folder (CPF) for Abigail Spanberger” along with the last 4 numbers of her Social Security. The USPS letter was addressed to America Rising Corporation in Arlington, VA and signed, Pamela Gabriela.
However, Spanberger’s campaign lawyer Graham Wilson said at the time of the NYT’s report their claim of the FOIA through the Postal Service “did not ring true,” adding “In this unredacted form, this is not a document that the government can provide under the Privacy Act.”
The NYT’s report added that “National security experts said that the unauthorized release of such a highly confidential document is particularly troubling if it turns out to not be an isolated episode.”
Because Spanberger is one of several Democrat candidates with national security backgrounds either through military or intelligence agencies that U.S. Representative Ben Ray Lujan (NM, D), who is also the chairman of the DCCC, said he sent a letter “to more than a dozen candidates” informing them of Spanberger’s complaint, the NYT’s further reports.
Rep. Lujan was reported to have said, “This is an official government document that only President Trump’s administration should have in its possession in its unredacted form,” adding, “To be clear, we have no reason to believe the Republican groups have illegally obtained any of your personal files” nor do they, the DCCC, know how C.L.F. came into possession of the confidential document.
Spanberger was a covert operative overseas for eight years, the Times’ reports, “much of it investigating international terrorism cases.
Jeremy Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, told the NYT’s, “We cannot speak to the activity or behavior of outside groups.”
When the NYT’s reached out to the Associated Press for a comment, a spokesman for the news organization, Bryan Baldwin, replied, “As a matter of longstanding policy, The Associated Press does not publicly discuss its new gathering methods,” and that “In this instance, The A.P. did not publish a story on this topic.”
The NYT’s does report that Spanberger herself noted she was notified in 2015 she may have been one of the millions of government workers whose records were breached in an intrusion that officials then said was traced to the Chinese government. The breach happened in the Office of Personnel Management who are responsible for federal employee records which includes security clearances records. You can read about that in a separate June 4, 2015 report here.
For the complete New York Times’ report with more background on Abigail Spanberger’s story you can read it in full, here.
Wednesday: An Update
In Wednesday’s early am hour, at 4:02 a.m. ET, Buzzfeed reporters Grace Wyler and Jason Leopold write, “The United States Postal Service has released the entire federal security clearance application of a former CIA officer running for Democratic Congressional seat, in what experts say is a highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented move, given the extensive, highly personal nature of the information contained in such documents,” and that they could “confirm that an unredacted copy of the federal security clearance application was obtained by America Rising, a research group allied with the Republican Party.”
Buzzfeed reporters go on to say that America Rising said the organization believed “it was a response to its July 9 Freedom of Information Act request” from the Postal Service’s human resources division and that once they had the application in their possession they then “shared it with its client, the Congressional Leadership Fund.”
Documents the reporters viewed showed the C.L.F’s request for Spanberger’s “entire civilian personnel file” which was submitted by America Rising to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), part of the National Archives division, and sought records pertaining to Spanberger’s dates of employment, salaries, titles, and position descriptions, but “did not explicitly mention the federal security clearance application” known as the SF-86.
Historically, Buzzfeed says, “such records would be withheld or heavily redacted under a FOIA.”
With the first five digits of Spanberger’s social security number provided by America Rising to the NPRC, obtained through, they claim, LexisNexis, the NPRC then pulled Spanberger’s personal file and forwarded it to the US Postal Service’s corporate management office located in Washington, DC, which keeps custody of all former employees’ personnel files, they said in a letter to America Rising dated July 12..
As reported above, America Rising received from the Postal Service’s HR division Abigail Spanberger’s ‘entire’ Official Personnel Folder with their letter dated July 30, 2018.
“FOIA and security clearance expert” Bradley Moss told BuzzFeed reporters it was an unusual decision for someone at the USPS to release an unredacted SF-86 application form and that “someone at the USPS FOIA office is getting fired,” saying that, “if they truly managed to release this file without noticing the Standard Form 86” there could be justifiable grounds to fire that officer.
“SF-86 paperwork is categorically privacy-protected and to my knowledge has never been released through FOIA to a third party absent a privacy waiver,” Moss added.
BuzzFeed said that a USPS spokesman, David Partenheimer, told them Wednesday, “We are looking into this matter. I will reach out to you when we have more to say.” However, the spokesperson they contacted at the NPRC “did not respond to requests for comment.”
Side Note (Opinion)
This is going to be one to watch. Could it be this is just a wild coincidental bureaucratic mistake? Absolutely. Can pigs fly … if given enough thrust?
I encourage readers to read all the pieces of evidence and draw their own conclusions with what information is available at this time. If or when more information becomes available on this story I will update TNB readers.