From Colombian hookers to drinking on assignment to freelance surveillance of people who bother its employees, the U.S. Secret Service has come under more than a little fire in the past few years. But when a Congressman began aggressively questioning the agency’s director about agents driving drunk near the White House, some members of the elite protective division within the Department of Homeland Security decided it might be time to push back.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, was only 18 minutes into a contentious hearing with USSS Director Joseph Clancy when the first agency employee used an internal computer system to access personal information about the Congressman associated with a job application filed with the service more than a decade prior.
The information quickly made its way through the ranks of the agency, according to a report released Wednesday by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General. Some 45 different individuals within the agency accessed the file related to Chaffetz’s application, nearly all with no reason to do so, which likely puts them in violation of federal privacy laws.
Further, the information was widely shared within the agency by those who accessed it. Investigators wrote, “We were unable to determine with certainty how many of those individuals in turn disclosed this information to others who did not have a need to know, who may have then told others. However, the disclosure was widespread, and recipients of the information likely numbered in the hundreds.”
Even more troubling is the fact that senior officials within the agency appeared to support the effort to dig into Chaffetz’s past, and suggested that leaking damaging information might be a good thing.
“Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out,” wrote USSS Assistant Director Ed Lowery in an email reproduced in the report. “Just to be fair.”
“This episode reflects extremely poor judgment and a lack of care on the part of a number of Secret Service employees,” said Inspector General John Roth. “Given the sensitivity of the information with which these agents are entrusted, particularly with regard to their protective function, this episode is deeply disturbing. Secret Service leadership must ensure that behavior like this will not be tolerated.”
Asked about the report by the Associated Press, Chaffetz said that any investigation of the agency related to the accessing of his personal information would be handled by Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the Select Committee investigating the 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.