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

by Tim Cushing
Techdirt
Oct. 01, 2015

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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