Officials investigate purported web posting of private info on first lady, others
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Secret Service and FBI are investigating how personal information purported to relate to first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former first lady Hillary Clinton ended up on an Internet site, officials said Tuesday. It was not clear how much of the information was accurate and whether it was obtained through hacking or by scrutinizing public records.
The FBI also is looking into postings of information about a number of high-profile celebrities and other public figures. The site claims to have Social Security numbers, addresses of homes and financial information for a variety of people, including Beyonce, Jay Z, Mel Gibson, Paris Hilton, Ashton Kutcher, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder. Others listed include former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and wrestler Hulk Hogan. The amount of purported information on each person varies.
On Tuesday afternoon the website added information it said involved former Vice President Al Gore.
“We will confirm the Secret Service is investigating the matter,” Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said in response to inquiries about material posted on Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Biden. “We cannot comment further as it is an ongoing matter.”
But as an indication the situation is being treated seriously, a law enforcement official told CNN that investigators will seek administrative subpoenas to obtain records from Internet service providers. “This is a potentially complex investigation and it will take some time,” the law enforcement official said.
An FBI official said it’s possible the information posted was available from publicly available sources. Some of the information, including a number of addresses, could be obtained from public records. Some public records also contain part of an individual’s Social Security number.
The material posted on the website — which CNN is not naming — has entire Social Security numbers, but law enforcement officials would not comment on the accuracy of the postings.
The material allegedly involving the first lady has a message at the top saying, “Blame your husband, we still love you, Michelle.”
The site posted what it claims is a TransUnion credit report on Obama listing bank accounts, credit cards, and mortgage information.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked whether the information on the web is accurate, referred all questions to the Secret Service.
The Los Angeles Police Department said it has been getting a lot of inquiries about the posted information; Officer Bruce Borihanh said the department isn’t saying whether it’s accurate.
Borihanh said the department and federal investigators are working to find out where the information came from and “whether any of it was illegally obtained.”
Two credit agencies said some of their reports were fraudulently obtained. Equifax and TransUnion did not name the people whose records were improperly accessed, but said that whoever was behind it had personally identifiable information.
The agencies said they are working with law enforcement officials. TransUnion said its systems “were not hacked or compromised in any way.”
A former Justice Department cyber-crime prosecutor said the celebrities and public figures may have been victims of “dox” attacks. Marc Zwillinger said perpetrators of such attacks obtain personal data to seek records and then put them online where anyone can see the information.
Zwillinger and other experts said people who go looking for Social Security numbers and birth dates don’t necessarily need to hack into computers to find them, and with that information they can impersonate an individual to obtain credit reports.
Evan Hendricks, the author of “Credit Scores & Credit Reports” said the information posted on the website about Michelle Obama and other high profile people has “no obvious signs it’s bogus, but only the person themselves would really know if it’s legit.”
Hendricks said credit bureaus often lock the profiles of well-known people to protect the information.
“This is a grotesque invasion of privacy,” Hendricks said.