Third supervisor was involved in Secret Service scandal in Colombia
By Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura,
A Secret Service employee implicated in the agency’s prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, this year was a supervisor with security information about President Obama’s visit there.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, whose agency has confirmed the involvement of the supervisor, delayed two weeks before disclosing that information to congressional oversight committees in the wake of the public revelations about the scandal, according to a timeline provided by Sullivan’s office and a member of Congress briefed by the director.
Also, while publicly testifying about the incident late last month, Sullivan did not disclose that the additional agency employee implicated in the controversy was a supervisor and had access to security information about the visit. Sullivan later urged lawmakers not to make that information public, a transcript of his testimony shows. An agency official briefed on the probe said the director delayed providing that information to protect possible undercover agents.
On Friday, the Associated Press released a list of formal misconduct allegations made about Secret Service staff since 2004. The list, heavily redacted complaints made to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, included allegations that staff had solicited prostitutes, been involved in sexual assaults, leaked sensitive information, published pornography, improperly used weapons and engaged in drunken behavior.
One anonymous complaint in 2011 asked the inspector general to investigate allegations that Sullivan had ordered that a contract worth millions of dollars be awarded to a specific contractor without competition.
“The procurement staff was allegedly warned ‘not to interfere’ after questioning the award,” the documents report.
The documents do not indicate in many cases whether the complaints were proved true or whether any actions were ordered as a result. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said the list was simply a log of incoming complaints. “Allegations of employee misconduct, whether they are received at the Secret Service, at DHS-OIG, or on an anonymous hotline, are taken seriously and fully investigated,” he said.
Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Charles K. Edwards said through a spokesman Friday that his agency investigated the 2011 allegation against Sullivan and found no evidence to support it. The complaint had been sent directly to the office’s chief investigator, Thomas M. Frost, who was recently placed on administrative leave pending a criminal grand jury probe into allegations that his office fabricated investigative reports.
In the Cartagena case, the newly identified employee, John Christman, is a supervisor in the agency’s intelligence division, which reviews risks and threats to the president. He was assigned as an intelligence officer in an incident command center for Obama’s Colombia trip, according to agency personnel briefed on the probe.
Christman declined to comment through the agency, as did Larry Berger, a lawyer for the federal law enforcement union representing members of the service implicated in the scandal.
Christman is the third supervisor implicated in the case, which has roiled the careers of more than a dozen agents and uniformed officers in a revered federal law enforcement agency.
Donovan said Christman’s access to security information never jeopardized the president’s security.
“In the eight weeks since this incident occurred, and throughout a comprehensive investigation, there has been no evidence found that any security-related information was compromised,” he said. “This potential misconduct did not occur at any of the hotels utilized by the Secret Service.”
Donovan said there was no effort to play down the scandal.
“All elements of this incident have been extensively briefed to the Office of Inspector General and to our congressional oversight committees,” he said.
Unlike the other agency employees implicated in the scandal, Christman had received security briefings and classified intelligence about Obama’s upcoming visit to the country before the incident occurred.
Christman is on administrative leave pending completion of the investigation, according to agency personnel, who said his actions did not involve serious misconduct.
A preliminary internal investigation conducted on April 13 revealed that a dozen Secret Service workers had brought foreign women to their hotel rooms two days earlier. Christman voluntarily stepped forward roughly a week later to tell supervisors he had contact with a prostitute while working on the Cartagena trip, according to two agency officials briefed on the probe.
Christman reported that, while socializing with Drug Enforcement Agents, he accepted a massage from a woman he believed was a masseuse, according to officials briefed on his account. He said he stopped the massage when it became sexual, paid the woman for the massage and left.
The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating whether three DEA agents in his company solicited prostitutes or broke other department rules. A DEA spokesman declined to comment on the status of that probe.
Previous accounts of the Cartagena incident have focused mostly on 12 individuals and reported that two supervisors were involved: David Chaney, who oversaw a program that coordinated activities with the service’s international field offices, and Greg Stokes, who oversaw the agency’s canine training.
In his remarks at a May 23 hearing with Sullivan, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, repeated that just two of the staff members implicated were supervisors.
An argument between a Cartagena prostitute and Secret Service agent Arthur Huntington over her unpaid fee in the hallway of Hotel Caribe ultimately led to the broad misconduct probe and public disclosure that numerous service members had brought prostitutes or local women to their hotel rooms.
The initial 11 implicated agents in the Hotel Caribe were shipped out of Columbia the morning of April 13, just hours before Obama was set to arrive that afternoon for an economic summit. The agency then discovered a 12th service member had been involved.
Christman is a supervisor in the Protective Intelligence and Assessment Division, which evaluates and investigates information about individuals or events that could pose a potential or known threat to the president or others protected by the service. When the president or other protectees travel, the division also has the role of conducting intelligence “advances” ahead of those trips.
In his public testimony about the service probe, Sullivan sometimes gave conflicting numbers for how many Secret Service agents and others were implicated in the scandal. In his opening remarks, he made clear that 11 agents were initially involved, the agency discovered a 12th, and then one more individual came forward to voluntarily report his involvement with a Colombian woman.
But later in the hearing, the director stressed that only 12 Secret Service employees were implicated in the scandal, while arguing that carousing with women on official trips was not part of the Secret Service culture.
“This is not a systemic issue with us,” Sullivan said in the hearing. “These are just 12.”
Sullivan later noted the number again in responding to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) about the agency: “We’re talking about 11 individuals — now 12 individuals — who took part in this misconduct.”
Staff writer Ed O’Keefe and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.