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." – Associated Press, Sept. 30, 2015
The U.S. Secret Service looks more like a rogue agency every day. Between agents partying with prostitutes, others drunkenly driving through White House gates and yet others leaving the mansion's front door unlocked, it's fair to wonder when they will "accidentally" kill someone.
Now we have yet another crazy revelation. Persons within the S.S., under congressional scrutiny for the above offenses and more, decided they would bring down the chief scrutinizer, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).
Chaffetz unsuccessfully applied to join the agency in 2003. Someone apparently remembered that fact and accessed his personnel file. It wasn't random curiosity, either. Computer records show someone accessed the documents exactly 18 minutes after the start of a March 2015 congressional hearing on the agency's misconduct. At least 45 people within the Secret Service viewed the file.
One week later, Assistant Director Ed Lowery wrote in an e-mail to another assistant director, "Some information that he [Chaffetz] might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair."
A few days later, the Daily Beast reported the fact that Chaffetz was overseeing the very agency that had once rejected him. The story, sourced to "White House officials," mentioned no other derogatory information except that Chaffetz had not previously disclosed the application. He claimed it was irrelevant. We still do not know what "embarrassing" information Assistant Director Lowery wanted to reveal.
The episode brings some interesting points to the surface.
First, an agency with "Secret" as its middle name apparently has little respect for secrecy, given the wholesale snooping into the Chaffetz file. The fact the two assistant directors felt free to discuss it via e-mail suggests this is probably a normal practice within the agency. The Daily Beast story proves at least one person felt free to share secrets with news media.
Second, this comes in the midst of FBI Director James Comey's aggressive demand for back-door access into everyone's online personal information. Can the FBI keep secrets any better than the Secret Service? Probably not. The last thing Comey should have is a master key to the Internet.
Third, we know the National Security Agency intercepts and stores vast quantities of electronic and telephone communications data. Is it any more trustworthy than the FBI? The information in its databases is probably enough to destroy almost anyone.
Fourth, it is fair to presume that federal agents and agencies have been doing these things for a long time. How many times have they successfully blackmailed their supposed overseers? What secrets did they want to protect?
That is the final irony. Keeping secrets is well within the government's capacity. It puts far more effort into protecting itself than to protecting the nation.