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Friday
Dec202013

Report Largely Clears Secret Service of 'Culture' Problem

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- A long-awaited report on the Secret Service, which was rocked by a prostitution scandal last year, concluded that the agency does not breed a culture of such behavior.

"Although individual employees have engaged in misconduct or inappropriate behavior, we did not find evidence that misconduct is widespread" or that "employees frequently engage in behaviors ... that could cause a security concern," according to the report, obtained by ABC News.

"Furthermore, we did not find any evidence that [Secret Service] leadership has fostered an environment that tolerates inappropriate behavior," it adds.

The report is the culmination of an extensive, 18-month investigation by the inspector general's office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Secret Service.  The internal watchdog's investigators reviewed records, surveyed more than 2,500 employees and interviewed more than 200 supervisors, managers and senior officials.

Their investigation was launched in the spring of last year, after several Secret Service agents solicited prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, while preparing for a presidential visit in April 2012.  According to the new report, those agents consumed as many as 13 alcoholic drinks "before engaging in questionable behavior."

Lawmakers, mostly Republicans, have repeatedly warned of what they see as a potentially dangerous culture within the Secret Service.

Just last month, in a Senate hearing titled "Threats to the Homeland," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said "whistleblower accounts" showed that Cartagena-like incidents "occurred in 17 countries around the world."

"[W]e continued to dig into exactly what happened in Cartagena, hoping it was a one-time occurrence," Johnson said.  "It does not appear that it was."

In fact, though, investigators "did not discover evidence that similar misconduct is widespread throughout the Secret Service," the report says.

Investigators did find one incident in 2010 "similar to Cartagena" that raised potential security concerns.  In that incident, an agent traveled overseas "in support of a presidential visit" to an unidentified country, drank alcohol with locals, and was then "observed arriving at the airport" the next day with some of the locals, according to the partially redacted report.  The incident was never adequately investigated, and proposed sanctions against the one employee were overruled, the report says.

The report also cites a handful of other cases in which a Secret Service employee "engaged in sexual activity in exchange for money," including one earlier this year.  The officer involved in that case had his security clearance revoked.

Nevertheless, of the 2,575 employees who responded to the inspector general's electronic survey, 83 percent said they were not aware of Secret Service employees engaging in any of the multiple behaviors displayed in Cartagena.

In addition, 84 percent of those who responded to the electronic survey said they would report colleagues they suspected of violating agency standards, and 61 percent said Secret Service management does not tolerate misconduct.

Overall, the report cites 824 incidents of employee misconduct over the past nine years, ranging from offenses such as "sleeping on the job" to "drugs and alcohol."  In that same time period, the Secret Service suspended an employee's security clearance 195 times for alleged misconduct, with those suspensions becoming more frequent in recent years and nearly one-in-ten involving sexual behavior "that could cause a security concern."

Still, the inspector general's report concludes, Secret Service employees "do not frequently engage in behavior that causes a security concern."

The former director of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, echoed that sentiment during a Senate hearing in May 2012 on the Cartagena scandal, when he apologized "for the misconduct of these employees and the distraction it has caused."

"The overwhelming majority of the men and women who serve in this agency exemplify our five core values of justice, duty, courage, honesty and loyalty," he testified.  "On a daily basis, they are prepared to lay down their lives to protect others in service to the country. ... Clearly, the misconduct that took place in Cartagena, Colombia, is not representative of these volumes and of the high ethical standards we demand from our nearly 7,000 employees."

The new report, expected to be released later Friday, reiterates a previous account indicating that Sullivan and the rest of the Secret Service "responded expeditiously and thoroughly to the allegations" when word of the scandal first surfaced last year.

The report out Friday makes 14 recommendations "to improve the Secret Service's processes for identifying, mitigating, and addressing instances of misconduct and inappropriate behavior."

The recommendations focus primarily on enhancing the reporting and investigation of alleged misconduct.

In addition, a new Office of Integrity within the agency is expected to identify and address emerging issues within the agency.  And even before investigators began their field work, the Secret Service began implementing recommendations from an outside group assembled by Sullivan, now with the Washington-based security firm GSIS.

Of the 13 agents first suspected of soliciting prostitutes in Cartagena, three were cleared of wrongdoing and returned to duty, six resigned or retired, and four had their clearances revoked or were removed, according to the report.

About 6,500 men and women make up the Secret Service.  Less than half of those asked to complete the electronic survey actually did.

The inspector general's office has been in the midst of a controversy itself, with the head of the office facing allegations of misconduct while his investigators were looking into the Secret Service matter.  Last week, Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards stepped down from his post and asked to be re-assigned elsewhere within the DHS.  President Obama had already nominated someone to take over the job.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio