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The US Postal Service Says “Human Error” Is To Blame For Releasing A Former CIA Officer’s Security Application To A Republican Group

“We take full responsibility for this unfortunate error, and we have taken immediate steps to ensure this will not happen again.”

Last updated on August 30, 2018, at 2:51 p.m. ET

Posted on August 30, 2018, at 2:36 p.m. ET

Former CIA officer and Democratic candidate Abigail Spanberger speaks to supporters at a rally in Richmond, Virginia.
Steve Helber / AP

Former CIA officer and Democratic candidate Abigail Spanberger speaks to supporters at a rally in Richmond, Virginia.

The US Postal Service on Thursday said “human error” led to the release of the entire federal security clearance application of a former CIA officer running for Congress.

“The Postal Service deeply regrets our mistake in inappropriately releasing Ms. Spanberger’s Official Personnel File (“OPF”) to a third-party, which occurred because of human error,” Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesperson, said in a statement. “We take full responsibility for this unfortunate error, and we have taken immediate steps to ensure this will not happen again.”

Earlier this week, Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer who is running for Congress in Virginia’s 7th District as a Democrat, claimed in an interview with the New York Times that a super PAC aligned with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan improperly obtained the document. Spanberger also suggested that the Trump administration may have leaked the information.

BuzzFeed News later confirmed that her unredacted federal security clearance application was obtained by a research group called America Rising. The group, which has strong ties to the Republican Party, originally filed a Freedom of Information Act request July 9 with the US Postal Service’s human resources section.

“America Rising submitted a standard Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking information from the National Personnel Records Center which was referred to the United States Postal Service, an independent agency, which provided us responsive documents,” America Rising CEO Joe Pounder said in a statement to BuzzFeed News earlier this week.

America Rising’s original request, reviewed by BuzzFeed News, sought records related to Spanberger’s employment at the US Postal Inspection Service, but did not explicitly request her federal security clearance application. Under normal circumstances, such a document would not be released, and if it had been, it would be heavily redacted to protect one’s privacy.

Instead, America Rising was provided with Spanberger’s entire personnel folder, including her federal security clearance application. American Rising then gave the documents to their client, the Congressional Leadership Fund.

On Tuesday, Spanberger released a statement calling the actions of the Congressional Leadership Fund “reprehensible.”

My statement in regards to the @nytimes article detailing actions by the Congressional Leadership Fund, Speaker Paul Ryan’s Republican Super PAC, to release protected personal information to score political points. #VA07 https://t.co/2iizY1lesR https://t.co/FPVIDIGTvu

The federal security clearance application, known as the SF-86, is a thorough application that asks a host of personal questions, such as full employment and residential history, in addition to questions about drug and alcohol use.

“The Postal Service has addressed the issue by providing clear instructions and guidance to our employees tasked with the responsibility for handling these requests, and we will follow up with additional training,” Partenheimer added in his statement. “The Postal Service also intends to change our process for handling requests for OPF information to provide further protection against its inadvertent release, and to ensure that such requests are properly handled.”

The statement also said the USPS would ask for the return of Spanberger's file that was improperly released and that "a small number of additional requests for information from personnel files were improperly processed" beginning in June of this year.

In a statement Thursday, Pounder said he was glad Spanberger’s “false and misleading allegations” had been “debunked” by the USPS.

“The fact remains that a simple FOIA request exposed aspects of Abigail Spanberger’s resume she truly didn’t want voters to know about and for which she must answer,” he said. “America Rising never published her personal information and has no interest in it, so it is glad to return the documents to the Post Office for their redaction.”

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