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Entries in Inspector General (4)

Thursday
Oct182012

EXCLUSIVE: Inspector General’s Report Contradicts Secret Service on Prostitution Scandal

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- An investigation into the U.S. Secret Service prostitution scandal by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general contradicts Secret Service director Mark Sullivan’s adamant assertion before Congress that “this just is not part of our culture,” ABC News has learned.

“Thus far, we have not found that this type of behavior was exhibited by any of these individuals before,” Sullivan testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in May, referring to the 12 agents who were accused of drinking and cavorting with prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, ahead of President Obama’s visit for the Summit of the Americas.

The report, however, revealed that one of the agents who was in Cartagena during the scandal and picked up a prostitute “admitted to soliciting a prostitute on two previous occasions, once in El Salvador in 2008/2009 and one time in Panama in 2009.”

The report also mentioned allegations of similar misconduct by agents on trips to Romania and China. Details from the report, labeled “law enforcement sensitive,” were shared with ABC News by sources who had reviewed it.

The investigation found that while Secret Service personnel were still on the ground in Cartagena, one of the supervisors that had engaged in misconduct was alerted that his actions had become known. He, in turn, warned other Secret Service staffers in Colombia that they should not bring prostitutes back to their hotel rooms.

A senior Secret Service official with knowledge of the investigation said Sullivan had been briefed prior to his testimony, and that “while some agents had been truthful regarding their conduct with prostitutes in Cartagena, none had confessed to prior contact with prostitutes. One agent, who later admitted to the OIG that he had indeed engaged in prior misconduct with prostitutes in El Salvador and Panama, had previously denied in an interview with USSS Office of Professional Responsibility that he had not had prior contact with prostitutes.”

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on a key Senate oversight subcommittee, was thoroughly briefed on the report by the subcommittee staff, which spent two days reviewing it.  Johnson noted that it is government policy for Secret Service agents to report certain contacts with foreign nationals.

“In the three and a half years prior to the Cartagena incidents, there were only 105 of those foreign national contacts reported,” Johnson said. “Once Cartagena occurred and the policy was redistributed, you know that agents were reminded of that, 423 additional contacts were all of a sudden reported. And again, this gives me concern that rotationally this type of behavior is more widespread.”

Sullivan is also facing questions about whether he misled lawmakers about the security risks surrounding the scandal.

In May, he testified that the prostitutes’ names -- when run through U.S. national security and law enforcement databases -- did not raise any red flags, with law enforcement concluding that there was “no connection either from … an intelligence perspective or a criminal perspective.”

But the inspector general asserted that Secret Service officials knew when Sullivan testified that information about two of the prostitutes had caused what’s commonly referred to as “intel hits.” One of those hits has since been dismissed and the other is still being investigated, sources told ABC News.

The senior Secret Service official asserted that before his testimony, “Sullivan was briefed as to the current status of the investigation and the facts known at that time. He was briefed that checks of the women’s names against national security and law enforcement databases, both in the U.S. and Colombia, had yielded no derogatory information.”

The official acknowledged that the Secret Service was told that there had been “potentially… a partial match to the name of one of the women, but at the time, Director Sullivan was briefed that it was not a match. Indeed, the Secret Service, working with other government agencies, was never able to confirm a connection.”

The DHS inspector general has faced challenges in his investigation, with 10 senior and current Secret Service officials refusing to grant him or his investigators an interview.

“We are concerned that the inspector general was interfered [with] in terms of his investigation, that was constrained and hampered,” Johnson told ABC News.

The inspector general also said the Justice Department denied its request to pursue the legal authority to conduct interviews with the prostitutes, hotel staff, or nightclub employees in Colombia and to access hotel records. Justice Department officials asserted they provided the inspector general with the documents that they were seeking.

“These are very serious charges -- the fact that the Secret Service has been implicated in this kind of behavior that puts the president’s life at risk, our national security at risk and we cannot get the answers,” Johnson said.

Ten days after the scandal broke, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “There have been no specific, credible allegations of misconduct by anyone on the White House advance team or the White House staff.”

The inspector general’s report also noted that the White House counsel conducted her own investigation when two staffers -- one a soldier who was part of the White House Communications Agency, the other a White House Advance Team volunteer -- were also cited in follow-up investigations, after Carney’s comments.

The soldier ultimately confessed, but the advance team volunteer denied any wrongdoing.  The White House argues that the only information tying the volunteer to the scandal was a hotel log in which a prostitute listed the volunteer’s room number as her destination.  White House officials noted that a Secret Service agent was similarly implicated -- falsely -- in the scandal, and that they are convinced of the volunteer’s innocence. They have no further information about whom the prostitute was visiting.

Last week, Johnson wrote letters to Director Sullivan, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder asking for a detailed description of the findings from their investigations into the scandal.

“Director Mark Sullivan and the Secret Service have conducted a fair and thorough investigation resulting from the Cartagena incident,” Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told ABC News in a written statement. “The agency response to those with oversight responsibility has been timely and truthful with over a dozen briefings to Congress, hundreds of employee interviews, and tens of thousands of documents turned over to oversight entities. We have remained in close touch with those partners to answer any questions and will continue to respond to the DHS-OIG and Congressional inquiries in that manner. Since 1865, the Secret Service has done its job with excellence and integrity, and the true culture of our employees is demonstrated everyday as we execute both our investigative and protective missions.”

“The fact that we’ve hit a brick wall just makes me highly suspicious that there is something being covered up here and the American public has a right to know,” Johnson said.

A senior White House official said Thursday evening that the White House continues to have confidence in Sullivan.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep192012

'Fast and Furious' Probe Clears Holder, Faults ATF and Justice Department

Chris Graythen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- "Operation Fast and Furious," the controversial undercover operation that allowed U.S. guns to be walked into Mexico, was a "risky strategy" that did not "adequately take into account the significant danger to public safety that it created."

That was the conclusion Wednesday from the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Justice, after an investigation that spanned more than a year and a half.

The OIG investigation found that Attorney General Eric Holder was not aware of the strategy and tactics used in "Fast and Furious," and turned up no evidence that Holder tried to cover up the operation, or mislead Congress about it. Holder was held in contempt of Congress earlier this year for allegedly withholding documents about DOJ's "Fast and Furious" investigation from congressional investigators.

In a statement Wednesday, Holder said, "It is unfortunate that some were so quick to make baseless accusations before they possessed the facts about these operations -- accusations that turned out to be without foundation and that have caused a great deal of unnecessary harm and confusion."

The IG report did find that a misleading letter that the DOJ sent to Congress was "troubling" because senior officials who were involved in drafting it knew, or should have known, that reckless behavior had occurred.

The political combat triggered by the flawed undercover operation played out in a series of contentious hearings on Capitol Hill in the past year. Behind the battles, the OIG found, was an undercover operation to catch gun-runners on the Southwest border that quickly turned bad.

Some of the 2,000 guns that made their way into Mexico as a result of "Operation Fast and Furious" were later recovered at crime scenes, including two found at the scene of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

The "Fast and Furious" strategy called for agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to conduct surveillance and review phone and financial records to track guns they believed to be going to Mexican drug lords, who could then be arrested. But ATF lost track of most of the guns, few arrests were made, and yet "the purchasing activity by Operation Fast and Furious subjects continued unabated, individuals who had engaged in serious and dangerous criminal conduct remained at large, and the public was put in harm's way."

The OIG investigation "revealed a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures that permeated ATF Headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona and at the Headquarters of the Department of Justice."

The report also details serious mistakes in DOJ's response to congressional inquiries about "Fast and Furious."

The Inspector General's review has recommended 14 Justice Department and ATF officials for disciplinary and administrative review, including the head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

As a result of the OIG findings, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein resigned his post Wednesday. The OIG report charged that Weinstein, a senior aide to Breuer, did not adequately share critical information about "Fast and Furious," and its predecessor operation, "Wide Receiver," with top DOJ officials.

Because that information did not reach the attorney general, more aggressive oversight of the operation did not occur, and misinformation was passed on to Congress, according to the OIG report. Weinstein and his attorney vigorously denied any wrongdoing, saying Weinstein did not receive the key information he needed from the agents carrying out the operation. The former acting director of ATF during the operation, Kenneth Melson, on Wednesday retired from the Department of Justice, effective immediately.

The report was highly critical of William Newell, the former special agent in charge of the Phoenix field office. "Newell also bore ultimate responsibility for the failures in Operation Fast and Furious," the review found, citing his leadership position and involvement in the case.

Newell is working at ATF Headquarters in Washington.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the leading congressional critics of DOJ's handing of "Fast and Furious," issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "Operation Fast and Furious was the height of irresponsibility on the part of a number of people from the ATF Phoenix field office all the way up to the Justice Department headquarters. And, we still don't know the full extent of any White House involvement because they refused to be transparent and provide documents requested by the Inspector General. It's clear that both the ATF and the Justice Department failed to provide meaningful oversight of Operation Fast and Furious."

The OIG report also detailed the mistakes that lead to the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry: "On January 16, 2010, one of the straw purchasers purchased three AK-47 style rifles from a Phoenix-area gun store. ATF agents learned about that purchase 3 days later and, consistent with the investigative strategy in the case, made no effort to locate (the purchaser) or seize the rifles although ATF had identified the suspect in November 2009. Two of the three rifles purchased by (the suspect) on January 16 were recovered 11 months later at the scene of the murder of Agent Terry, who was shot and killed on December 14, 2010, as he tried to arrest persons believed to be illegally entering the United States ... "

The day after Agent Terry's death, ATF agents arrested that suspect, Jaime Avila, and later 20 more alleged gun buyers and traffickers. As of Sept. 1, 2012, 14 defendants, including Avila, had entered guilty pleas to one or more counts of the indictment. In all, "Fast and Furious" identified more than 40 subjects believed to be connected to a trafficking conspiracy responsible for purchasing more than 2,000 firearms for about $1.5 million in cash. The vast majority of the firearms purchased by "Operation Fast and Furious" subjects were AK-47 style rifles and FN Herstal 5.7 caliber pistols.

The OIG report also noted, "What began as an important and promising investigation of serious firearms trafficking along the Southwest Border that was developed through the efforts of a short-staffed ATF enforcement group quickly grew into an investigation that lacked realistic objectives, did not have appropriate supervision within ATF or the U.S. Attorney's Office, and failed to adequately assess the public safety consequences of not stopping or controlling the alarming purchasing activity."

The report indicates that the OIG reviewed more than 100,000 documents and interviewed more than 130 witnesses, many on multiple occasions.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said, "We operated with complete and total independence in our search for the truth, and the decision about what to cover in this report and the conclusions that we reached were made solely by me and my office."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct212010

Prison Staffers and Inmates Exposed to Hazardous Materials, Inspector General Says 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Prisoners and staffers at Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities were exposed to hazardous materials and toxic metals while at work for the BOP’s electronic waste recycling program, according to a report by the Justice Department Inspector General.

The report, issued by inspector Glenn Fine, said that a quasi-government company, UNICOR, and the BOP are responsible for the exposure of prisoners and staffers who were breaking up computers and electronics at prison facilities.

The e-waste program, run by UNICOR, allows for computers, monitors, printers, and other types of electronic waste to be recycled at federal prisons.

However, e-waste contains toxic substances including cadmium, lead, mercury and arsenic, which can be harmful to humans and to the environment, the report said. When e-waste is disassembled and recycled, workers can be exposed to the toxic metals which can cause serious health implications.

After complaints arose about unsafe working conditions, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) identified significant safety and environmental problems with the program that resulted in the exposure of staff and inmates at several BOP institutions.

The BOP and Department of Justice have agreed to take corrective action.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Monday
Sep272010

FBI Agents Caught Cheating on Domestic Investigations Exam

Photo Courtesy - FBI(WASHINGTON) -- "Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity," is the FBI's motto. But when it comes to taking tests, some agents have had a problem living up to the integrity portion of that pledge.  An investigation released Monday by the Justice Department's Inspector General found that "a significant number of FBI employees engaged in some form of cheating or improper conduct," on an exam designed to test an agent's knowledge of the new Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG).

The investigation covered four FBI field offices, and found that the Bureau had "implemented training and a rigorous exam on the important requirements of the new DIOG. Unfortunately, however, the conduct of some FBI employees undermined those actions."  The investigation describes the kind of cheating that might be expected from a group of middle school students, not from professional law enforcement officers.  For example, the investigation notes, "some consulted with others while taking the exam when that was specifically forbidden by the test-taking protocols. Others used or distributed answers sheets or study guides that essentially provided the answers to the test. A few exploited a programming flaw to reveal the answers to the exam on their computers."

The report noted that the cheating was not limited to rank and file agents. Some supervisors participated as well.  The Inspector General's office recommended that the cheaters be disciplined, and that the FBI launch a more wide-ranging investigation of cheating on the test. It also said the Bureau should make everyone take a new exam.

In a written statement, the FBI said it was "disappointed with the misconduct described in the report," but that an "uncompromising commitment to integrity remains the backbone of the FBI workforce." The Bureau said it is taking personnel actions in cases where the misconduct has been determined, and following up on each of the 22 cases the Inspector General found.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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