Here’s what happened with NGP VAN, the Sanders Campaign, and the Clinton Campaign

Amy Dacey
Amy Dacey
Dec 19, 2015 · 4 min read

And here are the steps we are taking to address the problem

The Democratic National Committee, through its software partner NGP VAN, provides tools for Democratic campaigns that are invaluable and second to none. This week, there was error with that system, however, which led to an incident involving the Sanders campaign.

We want to lay out exactly what happened so that people better understand why the DNC needed to suspend the Sanders campaign’s access to our system and how we’ve been working to fully resolve a serious problem — and get everyone back to work electing a Democrat to the White House in 2016.

On Wednesday morning, NGP VAN applied a new software patch to the DNC’s voter database system, and because of an error in the code, users were capable of accessing some limited, yet extremely valuable information belonging to other campaigns for a very brief window of time. Even though the glitch opened access, users still needed to take deliberate steps to seek out such information.

It’s important to make a few things clear from the start. At no point were donor records, financial information, or volunteer data exposed between campaigns. At no point was any data exposed to the public. With the correction of the glitch and further audits by NGP VAN, we are confident now that the data within the system is secure.

Once NGP VAN had taken steps to contain the glitch, the DNC directed NGP VAN to conduct a thorough analysis to:

  • Identify any users who may have accessed information from another campaign inappropriately,
  • Pinpoint exactly what actions any such users took in the system, and
  • Report these findings to the DNC so we would know what, if any, data was actually acquired.

As a result of this analysis, NGP VAN found that campaign staff on the Sanders campaign, including the campaign’s national data director, had accessed proprietary information about which voters were being targeted by the Clinton campaign — and in doing so violated their agreements with the DNC.

These staffers then saved this information in their personal folders on the system, and over the course of the next day, we learned that at least one staffer appeared to have generated reports and exported them from the system.

None of this is in dispute. It’s fully documented in the system logs. And these details reveal nothing less than a serious violation of the agreements governing the use of this data. Underscoring that fact is the point that the Sanders campaign has fired their national data director and indicated further disciplinary actions may be taken pending the results of their own investigation.

When we understood what initially happened, we asked the Sanders campaign to tell us who exactly accessed Hillary for America information, share their understanding of what data was accessed, describe what was done with that information, and detail how the campaign intended to discipline the staffers involved.

On Thursday, further NGP VAN analysis revealed that it was very likely that a user had taken data out of the system during the breach. Upon learning that, the DNC had to suspend the Sanders campaign’s access to the voter file to ensure the integrity of the system. This action was not taken to punish the Sanders campaign — it was necessary to ensure that the Sanders campaign took appropriate steps to resolve the issue and wasn’t unfairly using another campaign’s data. This temporary suspension was well within the DNC’s authority. Moreover, the DNC was left with little choice in the matter when the Sanders campaign declined to respond in a timely manner to the requests for assistance with an investigation.

On Thursday, the Sanders campaign did move to fire its national data director. But we still weren’t provided the information we needed from the campaign until late in the evening on Friday. Once they complied with our prior request and provided documentation that we were then able to review, we immediately restored the Sanders campaign’s access to the voter file — as was always our intention and as we had advised well before they sued the Committee.

And the information obtained so far shows that the DNC’s concern to have a full, thorough inquiry was fully justified: As confirmed by the Sanders campaign in the account given the DNC Friday evening, one of the employees of the campaign involved in the misconduct tried to delete the notes they made recording their accessing of Clinton campaign data to hide his activities.

The next step is to continue to investigate the incident with the help of an independent auditor. This is necessary to confirm, as the Sanders campaign has assured us, that the data that was inappropriately accessed is no longer in possession of the Sanders campaign. The Sanders campaign has agreed to fully cooperate with the continuing DNC investigation of this breach.

The DNC has also instructed NGP VAN to conduct a review process of their internal procedures to identify how this mistake was allowed to happen and prevent further such mistakes. The DNC is currently beginning the process of securing an additional, independent audit by a data security firm of NGP VAN’s procedures.

We are glad that all parties are moving forward and that the candidates and Democrats can refocus on engaging voters to show how our party will continue growing the economy and keep Americans safe.

Amy K. Dacey is the CEO of the Democratic National Committee.

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