This story was originally published in the Nebraska Examiner.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force unintentionally released military personnel records of at least two members of Congress — Republican Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska’s 2nd district and Zach Nunn of Iowa’s 3rd district — eliciting frustration and concerns for veterans’ privacy.
“The recent targeting of Members of Congress’s personnel military records, the breach of sensitive data, and the duplicitous forgery taken by political hacks isn’t only a violation of public trust — it’s criminal,” Nunn said in a written statement.
“As a country, we should be supporting veterans who want to continue their service instead of harassing and intimidating them,” Nunn added. “I strongly support bipartisan efforts being undertaken by the House Armed Services Committee to protect our service members and hold criminal actors accountable.”
An Air Force spokesperson said in a written statement that an internal audit of records released between October 2021 and October 2022 showed “unauthorized release of military duty information on 11 individuals.”
The Air Force declined to share information about the 11 people.
Air Force employees didn’t follow procedures that required getting a signature to release this type of information, though the spokesperson said there “was no evidence of political motivation or malicious intent on the part of any employee.”
The Air Force spokesperson said that “virtually all unauthorized disclosures were in response to a third-party seeking service records for employment or benefit purposes through a process commonly used by other federal agencies to conduct employee background checks.”
A letter from Air Force Maj. Gen. Troy E. Dunn to Bacon about his military personnel record release says that Abraham Payton, a background investigation analyst with Due Diligence Group, LLC, requested the congressman’s records from the Air Force Personnel Center Military Records Branch in November 2021.
“He inappropriately requested copies of your military personnel records for the stated purpose of employment and benefits,” Dunn wrote. “Although, Mr. Payton was already in possession of your social security number at the time of his request, the records branch still released your Personal Identifiable Information on November 12, 2021 without your authorization, which is protected under Privacy Act of 1974.”
Additional security checks
Dunn wrote in the letter to Bacon that the Air Force immediately changed its procedures to require a higher level review and additional security checks to avoid records being incorrectly released in the future.
Bacon was in the Air Force from 1985 through 2014, according to his official congressional biography.
Bacon specialized in electronic warfare, intelligence and reconnaissance. His military decorations include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, two Bronze Stars, two Legion of Merits, five Meritorious Service Medals, and the Aerial Achievement Medal, according to his congressional website.
Nunn’s campaign website says he was a combat aviator who deployed three times to the Middle East and is currently a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Air National Guard. His official congressional biography lists the U.S. Air Force and Iowa Air National Guard, though it doesn’t list years of service.
The Freedom of Information Act says the public can access some information in military personnel records without approval from the veteran or their next-of kin. That information includes name, service number, dates of service, branch of service, final duty status and final rank.
It can also include salary, assignments and geographic locations, source of commission, military education level, awards and decorations, photograph, transcript of courts-martial trials and place of entrance and separation, according to the National Archives.
Bacon said in a written statement that “knowing that this third party paid by the Dem Campaign Congressional Committee was able to obtain my social security number and fraudulently use it to obtain my military records is concerning not only for myself and the other ten affected, but to every single veteran.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made at least 35 payments totaling more than $100,000 to Due Diligence Group during the last two years, according to Federal Election Commission records compiled by Open Secrets. The payments are categorized as “GENERIC CMTE RESEARCH MATERIALS” or “GENERIC STRATEGIC/POLITICAL CONSULTANT.”
Due Diligence Group LLC writes on its website that it specializes “in using public records research to provide our clients with the knowledge and insights needed to drive strategic decision making.” Due Diligence Group LLC did not respond to a request for comment.
The Due Diligence Group’s website was lacking additional information Tuesday, after Politico first reported on the military records release.
An archived version of its website from January 2021 lists Payton as a partner and says he “found his passion for transparency and ethics issues” after meeting a colleague at VR Research, an opposition research firm, in 2009.
Payton then trained to be “an adept due diligence researcher through various projects on behalf of political and commercial clientele over the next two years,” according to the archived website.
”Abraham joined a democratic SuperPAC in 2011, serving as Due Diligence Director,” the archived website says. “He produced over 100 opposition research books and managed over 4,000 public record requests.”