Minutes after President Xi Jinping headed back to China, President Barack Obama praised the Secret Service. The beleaguered agency had managed to keep the lid on back-to-back, high stakes state visits — Xi preceded by Pope Francis. Whew!
No shots fired, no crazies getting near either man, no wackos talking their way into the state dinner. But only days later, like acid rain on the Secret Service’s moonlight and roses party, the Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General released a devastating report on Secret Service misconduct.
IG John Roth, like most inspectors general, is not only serious about his work, but also circumspect in the language in his reports. Like the Government Accountability Office auditors, IGs have to swim in the waters into which they must sometimes unload.
That’s why I found some of the paragraphs in this report so startling. Roth appears deeply offended by not only what went on at the Secret Service, but by how widespread the misconduct was, not to mention shocked that such blatant disregard for law and regulation could occur at an agency stung by a two-year series of scandals that claimed a director’s job.
Brief summary: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was leading hearings looking into Secret Service misconduct. Apparently figuring they could help the cause, Secret Service managers discovered, raided and spilled to the media contents of files relating to an application to work at Secret Service by none other than Chaffetz!
Chaffetz didn’t get the job back in 2003, and didn’t seem all that fazed by the attempt at smearing him in 2015. The attempt was a remarkable exhibition of chutzpah. It involved some 45 people, all the way from a name-redacted GS-7 special agent in D.C., to Senior Executive Service members like Deputy Assistant Director Cynthia Wofford. Agents, special agents in charge, HR people, even Bill Clinton’s detailees — half the Secret Service seemed to have logged on to a protected file system for a peek. The violations occurred from Phoenix to London. Everybody knew about it except Director Joe Clancy, who found out when blindsided by newspaper reports. One agent admitted to twice telling the Washington Post protected information from the records of Chaffetz.
The episode so incensed DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson that he ordered the investigation.
The resulting report is filled with overwhelming and detailed findings of violations of rules, regulations and laws — chapter and verse. The IG said it “identified 18 supervisors at the GS-15 or Senior Executive Service level who appeared to have known or should have known, prior to the publication of the fact, that Chairman Chaffetz’ MCI record was being accessed. Yet, with a single exception, we found no evidence that any of these senior Secret Service managers attempted to inform the Director or higher levels of the supervisory chain, or to stop or remediate the activity.”
The report dings the chain of command all the way up to then Chief of Staff Michael Biermann and the current Deputy Director Craig Magaw, and Assistant Director Ed Lowery.
Agents violated both the Privacy Act and numerous provisions from the Secret Service IT General Rules of Behavior.
Read this report and your Sam Ervin eyebrows will end up on the top of your head.
The report brims with disgust on the part of the OIG. I cut and paste below some of the thunderbolts:
“This episode reflects an obvious lack of care on the part of Secret Service personnel as to the sensitivity of the information entrusted to them.”
“All personnel involved — the agents who inappropriately accessed the information, the mid-level supervisors who understood what was occurring, and the senior leadership of the Service — bear responsibility for what occurred.”
“Secret Service leadership must do a better job of controlling the actions of its personnel.”
“Secret Service leadership must demonstrate a commitment to integrity. This includes setting an appropriate tone at the top, but more importantly requires a commitment to establishing and adhering to standards of conduct and ethical and reasonable behavior.”
“It doesn’t take a lawyer explaining the nuances of the Privacy Act to know that the conduct that occurred here — by dozens of agents in every part of the agency — was simply wrong.”
“Knowing and willful disclosure of material protected by the Privacy Act is a crime.”
Now Secretary Johnson must decide what to do. If heads don’t roll on this one, I don’t think the agency could ever recover its credibility.
If you care about public integrity and the mission of the Secret Service — and shouldn’t we all? — read it and weep.