Secret Service Violates Privacy Act

John Roth, inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, has released his report detailing a violation of the Privacy Act of 1974 by the Secret Service. The agency has apologized to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) for improperly accessing sensitive personal information about him dozens of times. Moreover, said report states:

With regard to the Washington Post, one agent, [redacted] , from WFO, acknowledged in a written statement to OIG that he disclosed, on two separate occasions, information he knew to be derived from Secret Service records, and hence a system of records protected by the Privacy Act, to a Washington Post reporter. He told us that he had confirmed for the reporter the fact that he had received an email that had contained the Chaffetz applicant record. However, [redacted] understood that he was not the sole, or even original, source for this information.

The linked Washington Post article states,

The inspector general’s inquiry found that the Chaffetz information was spread to nearly every layer of the service.

Staff members in the most senior headquarters offices, the president’s protective detail, the public affairs office, the office of investigations, and field offices in Sacramento, Charlotte, Dallas and elsewhere accessed Chaffetz’s file — and many acknowledged sharing it widely, according to the report. The day after the March 24 hearing, one agent who had been sent to New York for the visit of the president of Afghanistan recalled that nearly all of the 70 agents at a briefing were discussing it.

All told, 18 supervisors, including assistant directors, the deputy director and even Clancy’s chief of staff knew the information was being widely shared through agency offices, the report said.

So, what prompted this strenuous activity by the agency designated to protect the president? Rep. Chaffetz was aggressively investigating allegations of Secret Service misconduct. The agency, instead of performing the tasks assigned to it by law, apparently sought rather to intimidate and embarrass the Republican. Perhaps agents were chafing under the Long List of Breaches and Scandals for [the] Secret Service Under Obama. Shockingly, instead of working to clean up their mess, they apparently decided to pad their dishonorable portfolio with fresh material.

The number of employees and departments involved prompts an obvious question? Why didn’t anybody try to stop these illegal acts? Didn’t anybody know that what they were doing was wrong? The linked report states that many insisted that their actions were not inappropriate–even though there was a warning banner citing criminal penalties for unauthorized access or use. In the space of nine days, Chaffetz’s application was accessed 60 times with only four inquiries that could reasonably be construed as justified. In the face of an investigation, everybody pleads ignorance. That’s rather convenient, no?

The report states that Joseph Clancy, Secret Service Director, “did not know” of the Chaffetz feeding frenzy, in part, because of ” two specific instances in which senior managers missed an opportunity either to stop the information themselves, or to inform Secret Service Director Clancy about the Chaffetz record and its improper access by Secret Service employees.” Yes, Clancy did not know, even though his chief of staff (Michael Biermann) and deputy director (Craig Magaw) were privy to the information. Of course that’s eyebrow raising, to say the least, but the report goes on to say that, “When he became aware, he took swift and decisive action, but too late to prevent his agency from again being subject to justified criticism.” Yes, too late indeed.

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