By Carla Marinucci, Tom Chorneau,
Chronicle Political Writers
September 11, 2006
California Highway Patrol officials have opened a criminal
investigation into "multiple" breaches and illegal downloads by
outside hackers into the computers of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's
office, after an embarrassing private taped conversation was leaked
last week to the Los Angeles Times, administration officials told The
"There is an investigation conducted by the California Highway Patrol
on how the tape obtained by the L.A. Times was acquired," said a
senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "This is a
criminal matter that has been turned over to the CHP."
The governor was criticized last week after the Times reported that
during a conversation in March with Susan Kennedy, his chief of staff,
and Gary Delsohn, his speechwriter, Schwarzenegger referred to Latinos
and African Americans -- specifically Republican Assemblywoman Bonnie
Garcia, who is of Puerto Rican descent -- as having "hot" blood or a
The Times reported that the conversation had been taped as part of
Delsohn's occasional practice to capture the governor's speech
patterns for his work.
After the Times story on the conversation appeared, Schwarzenegger
apologized Friday for the remark, saying he "cringed" upon reading it
in the newspapers. Garcia, of Cathedral City (Riverside County),
defended the governor, saying she took it as a compliment that she was
"passionate" on issues.
But Democrats, including the party's candidate for governor, state
Treasurer Phil Angelides, called the governor's remarks an affront to
The leaked tape sparked concern among administration officials because
they said the governor has never routinely taped conversations of his
staffers. Sources in the governor's office said working materials such
as the tape made by Delsohn were available to only a few individuals
in the governor's office, and there was immediate suspicion the tapes
were obtained by someone hacking into the computers in the governor's
office, where the tapes were stored digitally.
According to a senior administration official who spoke Sunday with
The Chronicle, a preliminary investigation showed that an outside
individual or individuals had apparently hacked into the computer
servers of Schwarzenegger's office and downloaded the tapes.
"The state's computer system was breached from individuals using
outside computers" on three separate occasions -- Aug. 29, Aug. 30 and
Sept. 4, the official said, describing the breach as "a very serious
Adam Mendelsohn, the governor's communications director, referred all
calls to the California Highway Patrol.
Tom Marshal, spokesman for the CHP, confirmed Sunday that an
investigation is under way into the security of the computer system in
the governor's office.
Some experts said government computer systems are among the most
vulnerable to outside hackers -- especially some systems used by
California state agencies that are well known as antiquated.
"Government systems are penetrated on a regular basis," said Bev
Harris, executive director of Black Box Voting, a Seattle-based group
concerned about electronic voting and hacking.
"There's a lot of government offices that you wouldn't think would be
vulnerable, but they have been penetrated," she said, citing the
Pentagon as having its computers recently breached by a hacker.
Harris noted that research her group did in California turned up a
surprising number of government computer systems that were more than
10 years old with little protection.
"There are lots of very antiquated databases in California," she said.
"It's almost laughable what systems they are still using."
The Los Angeles Times story regarding the leaked tapes was published
on the paper's Web site on Thursday and in the printed Times on
Friday. Officials said it was unclear if the investigation would also
involve any Times staffers.
An administration source said that a service used to transcribe the
governor's conversations has been fully cooperative with the
investigation and that there is "no reason to believe" that any of its
staffers are involved in the leak.
Some Republican strategists, such as Jon Fleischman -- publisher of
the popular FlashReport Web site -- have publicly speculated that
Democratic operatives were behind the leak of the tapes. But
Democratic party officials, including senior strategist Bob
Mulholland, told The Chronicle last week that he had nothing to do
with either the leak of the tapes or any hackers who might be
Mulholland, who has been involved in past headline-making "opposition
research" projects in political campaigns, said the governor's
comments were "stupid," but he had no responsibility for getting them
before the public.
E-mail the writers at cmarinucci (at) sfchronicle.com and
tchorneau (at) sfchronicle.com.
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