Secret Service Agents Dug Through Personal Info To Discredit Legislator Investigating Agency Wrongdoing

from the Secret(s)-Service dept

They get to wear nice suits, wield guns and hang around the President. They're entrusted with protecting perhaps the most important person in the world. The US Secret Service should only be staffed with the best the nation has to offer. Instead, its recent protective efforts can be generously described as "almost adequate" and it's apparently staffed with an assortment of vindictive children who can't stand the thought of having their shortcomings questioned.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz heads up the House Oversight Committee, which is tasked with investigating allegations that Secret Service agents had spent several hours drinking before (literally) crashing a "suspicious package" party being thrown in their absence on a street near the White House. Almost as soon as the hearings began, Secret Service agents began looking for some way to tear Chaffetz down.

Employees accessed Chaffetz's 2003 application for a Secret Service job starting 18 minutes after the start of a congressional hearing in March about the latest scandal involving drunken behavior by senior agents. Some forwarded the information to others. At least 45 employees viewed the file.
If this internal sharing of personal info were the extent of the wrongdoing, it would still be illegal. The US Privacy Act forbids the disclosure of these records, absent the written permission of the record's subject. Obviously, Chaffetz was never approached by the Secret Service to get his OK for using his job application against him. But this isn't the end of the agency's misconduct.
One week later, Assistant Director Ed Lowery suggested leaking embarrassing information about Chaffetz in retaliation for aggressive investigations by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into a series of agency missteps and scandals, the report said. Days later, on April 2, the information about Chaffetz unsuccessfully applying for a job at the Secret Service was published by The Daily Beast, an Internet publication.

"Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair," Lowery wrote March 31 in an email to fellow Assistant Director Faron Paramore.
"Just to be fair." Let's take a look at that statement. Lowery's employees embarrassed themselves, both in terms of protecting the White House and showing up for work sober. And yet, the "fair" thing to do was to discredit a politician actually performing his job: the oversight of government agencies.

Lowery says he never ordered anyone to release any information the agency had on Chaffetz. (He just heavily suggested it...) He told the Inspector General that saying the "embarrassing" information "need[ed] to get out" was only a reflection of his anger and frustration. It's not as though anger hasn't been known to push people towards regrettable actions. Obviously, Lowery regrets this now that he's been caught, but claiming "the anger made me do it" doesn't excuse his support of illegal activity being performed by his agency.

DHS head Jeh Johnson officially apologized to Rep. Chaffetz, following it with this consolation prize:
"I am confident that U.S. Secret Service Director Joe Clancy will take appropriate action to hold accountable those who violated any laws or the policies of this department," Johnson said.
This may be true. Clancy was called out of retirement to take over the agency after the previous Secret Service head was booted following the White House security breaches. But it's still the sort of "promise" no one should accept at face value. The government is routinely terrible at holding its own employees accountable for their actions, and -- recent high-profile disgraces aside -- the Secret Service is no exception.

The attempted use of personal information by agency employees to discredit someone engaged in investigating their wrongdoing is a gross abuse of power. Many government agencies have access to a wealth of personal information, especially for those who have been entrusted with security clearances or have applied for certain federal positions. Just think of what one could do with access to even greater amounts of personal information.
Oh but this would never happen with an #NSA database, don't be ridiculous.
Very little stands in the way of agencies abusing their access and power. This just happens to be one of the times when someone got caught.

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Filed Under: ed lowery, embarrassment, foia, house oversight, jason chaffetz, jeh johnson, joe clancy, secret service, us privacy act, vendetta


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Oct 2015 @ 8:34am

    Yeah, sure...

    "I am confident that U.S. Secret Service Director Joe Clancy will take appropriate action to hold accountable those who violated any laws or the policies of this department," Johnson said.

    Docked pay, maybe a little 'vacation' until the attention dies down... I've no doubt the harshest 'punishment' handed out will be telling those responsible not to get caught next time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2015 @ 8:44am

      Re: Yeah, sure...

      Or (involuntary) transfer to a different division.


      For those who don't know: the Secret Service has several different divisions. It used to be required that an agent work for some time before being considered for the Presidential Protection Detail or the Uniformed Division which is responsible for the White House property.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 1 Oct 2015 @ 9:08am

        Re: Re: Yeah, sure...

        I am sometimes surprised at how little people understand the secret service. Protecting the president is really their sideline. Their primary business is acting as cops for the treasury department.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      radix (profile), 1 Oct 2015 @ 9:52am

      Re: Yeah, sure...

      This, to me, is the most baffling part of the whole story.

      Here we have an agency that has shown no ability to self-police, and is in dire need of even a little oversight. When pushed on that fact, they double down on the stupid and prove to even the most apologetic supporter that maybe somebody outside the organization need to peek behind the curtain a little.
      And what's the response from Johnson? "No, it's cool. The Oversight Committee doesn't need to get any more involved, the Secret Service can handle this on their own."

      What. The actual. Fuck?

      Jeh Johnson: "The Secret Service is above the law."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2015 @ 8:42am

    Now just think what Google has on YOU! Any number of your vices or passing interests could discredit you.

    That's why to not permit corporations to spy on every possible aspect, collate, and store forever.

    Storing of information must be resisted, or this will become common.

    And will be yet worse when common, if computerized records are taken without question: won't even matter if you're "good"! The smear is all They need.

    So resist any and all spying: it's never good, even by your "friend" Google just trying to "help" you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2015 @ 8:43am

    Now just think what Google has on YOU! Any number of your vices or passing interests could discredit you.

    That's why to not permit corporations to spy on every possible aspect, collate, and store forever.

    Storing of information must be resisted, or this will become common.

    And will be yet worse when common, if computerized records are taken without question: won't even matter if you're "good"! The smear is all They need.

    So resist any and all spying: it's never good, even by your "friend" Google just trying to "help" you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2015 @ 8:59am

      Re:

      No one's going to believe a jackass who thinks poor people don't deserve healthcare and believes that spying for the sake of the RIAA is always permissible.

      Chew on a DMCA vote, scumbag.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2015 @ 8:49am

    "Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair".

    I'm glad our government agents respect their constitutional oaths so much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2015 @ 8:52am

    so, when members of a security agency that can freely access personal information on some high profile people, then use it to the detriment of those high profile people, there are no demotions, no sackings, only a comment like it's ok, no one would do anything wrong with this info as a chastising. when Snowden used information about what the security services were doing to ALL citizens and not just those inside the USA but worldwide, he gets threatened with the death penalty for committing treason! please explain the difference here other than one doing something to save the many instead of many doing what they can to screw the one??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 1 Oct 2015 @ 8:57am

      Re:

      The Secret Service agents did what they did to protect a person/agency in a position of power.

      Snowden did what he did in order to protect the public from those in positions of power.

      Huge difference for those in said positions of power.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2015 @ 9:07am

    This just proves my point that all bureaucrats need to be fired, they are what is wrong with all countries.

    Then we need to get rid of the lawyers but that is another arguement for another day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bill Lambeer, 1 Oct 2015 @ 9:07am

    Is the Secret Service

    the most inept and embarrassingly incompetent organization (outside of the EPA) within the US government? Look at their track record the pas 5 years- just disgraceful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mark Gisleson (profile), 1 Oct 2015 @ 9:15am

    Exercise caution on this one

    Chaffetz is from Utah and a ridiculously high percentage of SS and FBI agents are Mormons. Something happened ten years ago and I suspect we still don't know what that was about other than it was about a lot more than what we're reading.

    What THIS is about is Chaffetz leaking this story all over the Beltway to bolster his credentials for a leadership role in the new, even more radicalized Republican Congress.

    Chaffetz is playing the media like a violin. Techdirt should cover him very cautiously.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 1 Oct 2015 @ 9:58am

      Re: Exercise caution on this one

      Not sure what exactly you're insinuating here, but if there was some conspiracy of powerful Mormons to take over the government, why is Mitt Romney not President right now?

      Just asking...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 1 Oct 2015 @ 10:23am

      Re: Exercise caution on this one

      It doesn't matter if Chafftez was caught peeing on a basket full of kittens. It's irrelevant to what the SS was caught at.

      Now if Chafftez tries to use this incident to deflect from something he was doing wrong, what the SS did would be irrelevant. And Techdirt isn't playing that game. (Techdirt is really quite good about that.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Oct 2015 @ 9:52am

    I find it nice that they are finally using data they have access to against Congress.
    We all "know" its happened before, but they went big and got caught this time. Congress doesn't like being treated like the little people, so while partisan lines should make them cheer the otherside going down a peg - I'm pretty sure they can see that they are no longer safe.
    Sadly this is the object lesson they need, if it will actually result in any change remains to be seen, but I think they just figured out that the "most trusted" servants can't be trusted... and they handed out access to people way less vetted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 1 Oct 2015 @ 10:34am

    Tax dollars!

    Our tax dollars HARD at work!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 1 Oct 2015 @ 11:16am

    AHAHAHAAHAAHAHAHA!

    "I am confident that U.S. Secret Service Director Joe Clancy will take appropriate action to hold accountable those who violated any laws or the policies of this department," Johnson said.

    I mean AHAHHAHAHAHAHAH!!! Well, sorry, something got in my eye. I am also most confident that Clancy WAHAHAHAHHAHAHAH!!!! Let me try again. AAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!

    The highest standards of professional AHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHA!!! As always when taxed with upholding the highest law of the WAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!

    Perhaps come back later? 50 years or so? Don't hold your breath, though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 1 Oct 2015 @ 12:21pm

    Let's put this in perspective.

    A government agency with special police powers broke the law in order to eliminate a member of their democratically elected oversight committee.

    That's unquestionably breaking their oath of office. It's arguably treason.

    This wasn't the isolated act of a single individual. Over forty people in the agency felt free to access the file, and apparently shared it with many more. They all knew it was illegal, and should have realized the implications. No one reported this internally.

    This is an existential threat to government of the people, by the people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 1 Oct 2015 @ 12:34pm

      Re:

      That's unquestionably breaking their oath of office. It's arguably treason.

      You could argue that--anyone can, and frequently does, argue anything--but you'd be objectively wrong:
      Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.
      No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
      -- US Constitution, Article III, Section 3

      Sound like they committed some really serious crimes, but not treason.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2015 @ 8:07pm

        Re: Re:

        Yeah. It doesn't quite rise to the level of waging war against the United States.

        It is, however, very serious. Serious enough that everyone involved should be looking at being fired and/or criminal charges.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2015 @ 1:33pm

    Number one requirement to earn a secret service job is........yiiihaaaaa

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2015 @ 3:45pm

    more names for the list to be lynched then

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Alex, 1 Oct 2015 @ 4:47pm

    Overzealous subordinates

    "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ped_EcSing, 2 Oct 2015 @ 8:51am

    So-called Leak

    As I remember it... all this happened 2 to 5 YEARS ago.
    Mind you, I've been working really hard at having an empty mind and no memories.

    I'd say, start checking the Salt Lake Tribune.
    But this is NOT new.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyoty (profile), 2 Oct 2015 @ 10:49pm

    However the information surfaced, Chaffetz should recuse himself because he can be seen as having a vendetta against the Secret Service for rejecting him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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