41 Secret Service agents punished for breaching congressman’s private data

U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz © Jonathan Ernst
Congressman Jason Chaffetz’s rejected 2003 application to join the Secret Service leaked last year, and now dozens of agents from the federal law enforcement agency charged with protecting heads of state have been suspended without pay.

Actions of a total 57 Secret Service personnel, including 11 senior officials, were reviewed in a Department of Homeland Security investigation last fall. None of those disciplined Thursday were identified due to federal privacy laws.

"Of those, 41 are receiving some level of discipline. This discipline includes a letter of reprimand to one individual, suspended discipline contingent on no further misconduct for a period of five years, and suspensions from duty without pay for periods of up to 45 days,” Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a statement Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security, the parent office to the Secret Service, released its report in September 2015, finding 45 agents and supervisors peeked at Chaffetz’s personnel file, which was stored in an internal Secret Service database and was required by law to be kept private.

A March 31, 2015 email from Secret Service Assistant Director Edward Lowery read that there was “some information that [Chaffetz] might find embarrassing needs to get out.”

Chaffetz’s records were accessed about 60 times, including by officials from headquarters in Dallas, Boston and Phoenix and even from London.

The report said that 18 supervisors, including the deputy director and director Joseph Clancy’s chief of staff, knew that the information had been accessed from within the agency.

"The majority of these instances were in violation of the Privacy Act, Secret Service policy, and DHS policy,” Johnson stressed. 

The congressman’s private details soon made it to the media. The Daily Beast reported at the time that Chaffetz said that he applied to the Secret Service in 2003 following the 9/11 attacks, but he added that he was never interviewed, and his file was marked to indicate that better qualified candidates existed. Chaffetz had previously said he believes he was too old to apply, being 36 at the time, while the cutoff age for hiring agents is 37. 

Later on the same day, another publication in The Washington Post said that the House Oversight Committee asked DHS to investigate allegations that its employees had “circulated potentially unflattering information” about Chaffetz, the committee’s chairman.

At the time of the leak, Chaffetz was leading the panel tasked with examining an incident involving two Secret Service agents who drove through the scene of an active bomb threat investigation in front of the White House, running over the suspected item.

Another case was related to drinking on the job after three drunken agents were pulled off their assignment to protect President Obama during the G7 summit in the Netherlands. After the leak, Chaffetz said that it was “a tactic designed to intimidate and embarrass me” while also calling it a clear attempt to intimidate him into backing off his probes of Secret Service agents in trouble.

In April 2015, DHS Secretary Johnson made a telephone call to Chaffetz to personally apologize to the congressman overseeing the investigations.

That employee, who disclosed the protected information resigned, Johnson said Thursday.