Halting the wave of applause for the Secret Service’s smooth handling of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States, a new Homeland Security Department report suggests that the agency violated federal privacy law in an effort to embarrass Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican congressman from Utah.
In the midst of a March investigation led by Representative Chaffetz as the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the latest Secret Service scandal involving drunk senior agents, agency employees accessed his 2003 job application to the organization, forwarding the information to others, the DHS investigation found.
According to the latest report written by Homeland Security's inspector general, John Roth, Secret Service Assistant Director Ed Lowery even encouraged leaking embarrassing details about the congressman.
"Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair," Mr. Lowery wrote in an email to fellow Assistant Director Faron Paramore.
Chafetts first learned that his initial job application had been dug up in April when The Daily Beast ran an article revealing that he had previously been rejected by the Secret Service.
"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.
When it came out, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson apologized to Chaffetz, the congressman said in an interview on Capitol Hill. It’s unclear whether any employees had been punished.
"It's intimidating," Chaffetz said. "It's what it was supposed to be."
Agency Director Joe Clancy also apologized Wednesday for what he described as “wholly avoidable and embarrassing misconduct.” He promised to take action against those responsible for the data breach.
At least 45 employees viewed the file for Chaffetz’s unsuccessful job application. The investigation into the matter found that out of the 18 top agency members knew or should have known that the job application improperly accessed, only one attempted to inform Clancy.
Under Secret Service protocol, as well as US law, the inspector general said, employees are required to report illicit behavior to supervisors.
"It begs the question, why do these people have security clearances if they can't protect secret information," Chaffetz said. "It's stunning to think how pervasive it was. This wasn't one person who couldn't help themselves."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.