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Hundreds of U.S. government employees — including some with sensitive jobs in the White House, Congress and law enforcement agencies — used Internet connections in their federal offices to access and pay membership fees to the cheating website Ashley Madison, The Associated Press has learned.
The AP traced many of the accounts exposed by hackers back to federal workers. They included at least two assistant U.S. attorneys; an information technology administrator in the Executive Office of the President; a division chief, an investigator and a trial attorney in the Justice Department; a government hacker at the Homeland Security Department and another DHS employee who indicated he worked on a U.S. counterterrorism response team.
Few actually paid for their services with their government email accounts. But AP traced their government Internet connections — logged by the website over five years — and reviewed their credit-card transactions to identify them. They included workers at more than two dozen Obama administration agencies, including the departments of State, Defense, Justice, Energy, Treasury, Transportation and Homeland Security. Others came from House or Senate computer networks. The AP is not naming the government subscribers it found because they are not elected officials or accused of a crime. (NBC News has not confirmed the authenticity of the leaked data.)
Hackers this week released detailed records on millions of people registered with the website one month after the break-in at Ashley Madison's parent company, Toronto-based Avid Life Media Inc. The website — whose slogan is, "Life is short. Have an affair" — is marketed to facilitate extra-marital affairs.
Many federal customers appeared to use non-government email addresses with handles such as "sexlessmarriage," "soontobesingle" or "latinlovers." Some Justice Department employees appeared to use pre-paid credit cards to help preserve their anonymity but connected to the service from their office computers.
The AP's analysis also found hundreds of transactions associated with Department of Defense networks, either at the Pentagon or from armed services connections elsewhere. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday confirmed the Pentagon was looking into the list of people who used military email addresses. Adultery can be a criminal offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. "I'm aware it," Carter said. "Of course it's an issue because conduct is very important. And we expect good conduct on the part of our people. ... The services are looking into it and as well they should be. Absolutely."
The hackers who took credit for the break-in had accused the Ashley Madison website's owners of deceit and incompetence, and said the company refused to bow to their demands to close the site. Avid Life released a statement calling the hackers criminals. It added that law enforcement in both the U.S. and Canada is investigating.