A senior Secret Service official suggested earlier this year that the private file of a congressman, who had previously applied to the agency and was then overseeing a critical review of Secret Service operations, be leaked to the public, a government review has concluded.
The report by Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth found that Assistant Director Ed Lowery emailed a colleague about Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s 2003 application, stating that “some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair.”
The March 31 email was sent at the same time that Chaffetz, R-Utah, was directing a review of the agency’s response to a series of security breaches and agent misconduct.
The Chaffetz application file, opened in September 2003, contained the abbreviated notation “BQA,” meaning that other better qualified applicants existed.
At the same time, the inspector general found that more than 40 agency employees had accessed the protected information and that the disclosure of the information could subject agents to possible criminal charges, according to the review.
“Certain lines should never be crossed,” said Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in response to the report’s release. “The unauthorized access and distribution of my personal information crossed that line. It was a tactic designed to intimidate and embarrass me and frankly, it is intimidating. It’s scary to think about all the possible dangers in having your personal information exposed.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who ordered the review in April following the initial public disclosures, issued an apology to the congressman and said that he was confident Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy would “take appropriate action to hold accountable those who violated any laws or the policies of this department.”
“Activities like those described in the report must not, and will not, be tolerated,” Johnson said.
Of the 45 agency employees who accessed Chaffetz’s file, the inspector general found that only four had “an arguable legitimate need” to do it. In addition, the report found that 18 supervisors, including the acting chief of staff and deputy director of the service, knew or should have known that the congressman’s protected information had been improperly breached.
“Yet, with a single exception, there was no evidence than any of the managers attempted to inform up the chain or to stop…the activity,” according to the report. “Director Clancy was unaware of the behavior until shortly before the media published reports of it.”
In an interview with investigators, according to the report, Lowery denied specifically directing anyone to release the information and “believed it would have been inappropriate to do so.”
“He (Lowery) described the (email) statement as reflecting his stress and his anger,” the report stated. “The recipient of the email (Assistant Faron Paramore) stated that he never responded to the email and did not act on it.
“We have no information,” the report found, “that would establish that either Lowery or Paramore made good on the email.”
Clancy, in a statement issued late Wednesday, said that any employee implicated in the misconduct would be held accountable, “regardless of rank or seniority.”
“I will ensure the appropriate disciplinary actions are taken,” Clancy said, adding that the entire service owed an apology to Chaffetz for “this wholly avoidable and embarrassing misconduct.”