Obama passport

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The State Department said Thursday it had fired two employees and punished a third for looking at White House hopeful Barack Obama's passport files without appropriate authorization.

Obama's campaign called the breach of security an "outrageous" invasion of privacy and demanded a full probe.

"These unauthorized accesses were detected by the State Department and they were immediately acted upon," said undersecretary Pat Kennedy, adding that the incidents took place at separate times in January, February and March.

"However, we are taking immediate steps to be able to assure ourselves that it is nothing more than imprudent curiosity," Kennedy told reporters.

"In each of these cases, the unauthorized access was caught by a monitoring system. When the monitoring system is tripped we immediately seek an explanation for the record access, and that is the case in each of the individual cases."

Spokesman Sean McCormack said the department's initial take was that it was a matter of "imprudent curiosity," and that an investigation had been launched into what was done with the information accessed.

"That is our initial take on the matter," McCormack said. He declined to say whether the information had made its way out of the State Department but added: "We are not being dismissive of any other possibility."

Kennedy said that "in two cases the employees were immediately terminated, the third was disciplined."

He gave no details on what was contained in the files other than that they "normally ... would be an application for a passport," and refused to disclose the locations where the breaches took place.

The Illinois senator's campaign spokesman issued a scathing statement, admonishing the administration of President George W. Bush for showing "little regard" for citizens' rights.

"This is an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

"This is a serious matter that merits a complete investigation, and we demand to know who looked at Senator Obama's passport file, for what purpose, and why it took so long for them to reveal this security breach," said Burton.

"Our government's duty is to protect the private information of the American people, not use it for political purposes."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Joseph Biden, said the passport breach left him "deeply troubled," and urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "to promptly refer this matter to the State Department Inspector General for investigation."

State Department officials were to meet with staff from Obama's campaign on Friday to discuss the matter.

McCormack said Rice "had a lot of questions about the system ... and she wanted to make sure we did a full investigation of the matter."