Scores of U.S. Secret Service employees improperly accessed the decade-old, unsuccessful job application of a congressman who was investigating scandals inside the agency, a new government report said Wednesday. An assistant director suggested leaking embarrassing information to retaliate against Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House oversight committee.
The actions by the employees could represent criminal violations under the U.S. Privacy Act, said the report by the Homeland Security Department's inspector general, John Roth. "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 wrong," the report said.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson personally apologized to Chaffetz again Wednesday, the congressman told The Associated Press in an interview on Capitol Hill. Johnson did not disclose whether any employees had been punished. "It's intimidating," Chaffetz said. "It's what it was supposed to be."A release from the DHS IG:
The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General has completed its independent investigation into allegations that one or more Secret Service agents improperly accessed internal databases to look up the 2003 employment application of Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Inspector General has confirmed that between March 24 and April 2, 2015, on approximately 60 different occasions, 45 Secret Service employees accessed Chaffetz’ sensitive personal information. The OIG concluded that only 4 of the 45 employees had an arguable legitimate need to access the information.
The Inspector General’s report contains the following additional conclusions:
- The Inspector General could not determine exactly how many of the 45 employees disclosed this information to others, but can conclude that the disclosure was widespread.
- Each employee who accessed the Chairman’s application and disclosed it to another without an official purpose in doing so violated the Privacy Act, Secret Service policy, and DHS policy.
“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.”
- The OIG identified 18 supervisors — including the Acting Chief of Staff and the Deputy Director — who knew or should have known that Chairman Chaffetz’ personal information was being accessed. Yet, with a single exception, there was no evidence that any of the managers attempted to inform up the chain or to stop or remediate the activity. Director Clancy was unaware of the behavior until shortly before the media published reports of it.
The full report is here.