On Wednesday, the Secret Service was ridiculed once again after word got out that dozens of agents had accessed the personnel file of a certain House Republican — one who happened to chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that was investigating why the agency was so bad at its job.
“Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out," assistant director Edward Lowery emailed his colleague on March 31. A few days later, an article appeared on the Daily Beast showing that Utah representative Jason Chaffetz had applied to the Secret Service in 2003 — and wasn’t accepted.
The Secret Service’s less-than-elegant method of revenge was made public in a report released by the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security. Around 45 Secret Service agents peeked at Chaffetz’s personnel file, which is private and not supposed to be accessed for revenge purposes. The anger-fueled research began 18 minutes after the start of a March 24 committee hearing, in which Chaffetz repeatedly raised his voice, at one point saying, “We’re not playing games. This is the life and security of the president of the United States.”
It wasn’t just one department accessing the files, according to the Washington Post. The president’s guards were looking at the old application — as were people in senior management. Press people saw the file. Secret Service officials in Texas and California looked at Chaffetz’s documents. Of the nearly 60 times the documents were accessed, according to the DHS report, agents had a valid reason for only 4. They were mad — and in the process managed to make sure that everyone would be talking about a new Secret Service mess once everyone forgot about the ones that had left them embarrassed and angry in the first place.
The DHS inspector general wasn’t quite sure who was responsible for leaking the information. Lowery, the email sender, told investigators that he didn’t do it, and that he sent the email out of ”stress and … anger.”
“Certain lines should never be crossed,” Chaffetz said in a statement. “The unauthorized access and distribution of my personal information crossed that line. It was a tactic designed to intimidate and embarrass me and frankly, it is intimidating. It’s scary to think about all the possible dangers in having your personal information exposed.”
Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee — who often disagrees with Chaffetz on many issues — said in a statement, “I believe in fundamental fairness, and those who are unwilling or unable to meet the highest of ethical standards should not be a part of the Secret Service.”
Secret Service director Joseph Clancy, who has become an expert in saying sorry, apologized. “On behalf of the men and women of the United States Secret Service,” he said in a statement, “I again apologize to Representative Chaffetz for this wholly avoidable and embarrassing misconduct.” The apology has now been added to the increasingly diverse and voluminous Google exhibition of Secret Service apologies from the past year.