By Gina Yarbrough/Managing Editor and Publisher of San Diego County News
WASHINGTON – United States Secret Service (USSS) Director Mark Sullivan, is working feverishly to quickly contain the on-going Cartegena, Columbia Hotel Caribe scandal that has his bosses, Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, President Barack Obama, and the U.S. Congress, all waiting to see if this scandal is a much deeper systemic breakdown of federal rules, regulations and ethics within the agency.
San Diego County News has reviewed hundreds of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents, which were requested from various federal agencies between 2000 and 2010 by major media outlets in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and New York, and found that the USSS has a serious breakdown in morale, leadership, and compliance with federal civil rights laws.
Members of Congress such as U.S. Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are outraged that USSS agents and Department of Defense personnel would allow such a breach in security to happen under their watch. Senator Sessions has already publicly called for the resignation or firing of USSS Director Sullivan, who has worked for the agency since 1986.
What the majority of the American people may not know is that the USSS has a long and sordid history of alleged and documented racial discrimination, gender bias, and opposition to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender applicants applying for positions as special agents or the uniformed office division. All of the issues are well known to the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Darrell Issa (R-CA), and the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King (R-NY), but did nothing to seriously address the complaints until this particular scandal went global.
In an April 17 interview on the Today Show, Congressman King says this is no time to oust agency director Mark Sullivan, based on what is known so far about the recall of 11 agents from Colombia. Congressman King went all out of his way to praise USSS Director Sullivan: “Sullivan acted immediately” and says he thinks, “It’s wrong to be prejudging Mark Sullivan.”
But King also says, quote, “It looks like we really lucked out on this,” telling NBC it appears agents compromised presidential security with the partying that occurred in Colombia before President Barack Obama arrived for his summit in Cartagena, Colombia.
Keep in mind the USSS is a 145 year-old federal agency that employs 6,800 employees scattered over dozens of U.S. field offices and overseas offices in Europe, Asia, South America, Middle East, and Africa. In 2010, 80% of the people who worked at the Secret Service were white, and 10% were black, according to data obtained by The Associated Press. The remaining 10% were of other races. In the agency’s senior leadership, whites made up about 75% and blacks 13%. Blacks make up about 12% of the United States’ population.
Majority of White Male Secret Service Agents Have Resisted Change
It should be noted that the majority of USSS employees are honest, loyal, law-abiding federal employees, concerned with making a living, contributing to society, and raising a family in a fair and just society. Others, we were told in various interviews with former and current USSS agents, are more selfish, concerned only about themselves and their close connected fraternity brothers who have little regard for fairness and equity. Since USSS Director Mark Sullivan was appointed by President George W. Bush and took over the agency in May 2006, there have been a number of highly publicized negative events, which highlighted the agency’s inability to address reported harassment, racial and civil rights issues involving African American and women employees.
A former Senior Executive Service Secret Service agent who is now retired and living in San Diego, worked under the former USSS Director, Ralph Basham (2003-2006), told San Diego County News that Basham was instrumental in “suppressing any dissents in the field concerning complaints of sexual harassment and agents colluding with prostitutes while on assignment.”
The agent refused to give the names of agents purportedly engaged in soliciting prostitutes because the agents still work for the agency. However, he did admit that two of the agents cited in the so-called “suppression” were part of the Hotel Caribe scandal.
Listed are brief highlights of cases/incidents involving USSS:
April 9, 2012: A federal appellate court ruled that two Secret Service agents must face charges for violating the free speech rights of protesters by engaging in “viewpoint discrimination” during the administration of President George W. Bush.
On October 14, 2004, Secret Service agents Tim Wood and Rob Savage were part of President Bush’s security detail when he visited the mining town of Jacksonville, Oregon. Groups of both pro- and anti-Bush demonstrators gathered outside the hotel where Bush was staying. According to court papers, relations between the two sides were non-violent and “cordial.” However, Wood and Savage then ordered state and local law enforcement officers to move the Bush critics away from the building and undergo security screening, while allowing the pro-Bush crowd to get closer and not endure the screening. The law enforcement officers used “clubs, pepper spray bullets, and violent shoving” to accomplish their task.
March 2012: For almost a decade, Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC Law Offices has represented a putative class of African-American United States Secret Service Special Agents who have dedicated their lives to protecting the President, Vice President, candidates and foreign dignitaries, but have faced a race-based glass ceiling according to the law firm. The firm stated that instead of promoting Special Agents based on qualifications or merit, the Secret Service has employed a “good ‘ol boy” network that favours white Agents and tolerates racial favouritism and overtly racist acts.
On July 15, 2010, United States District Judge Richard Roberts upheld an evidentiary sanction imposed by United States Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson on December 17, 2008. Judge Roberts held that the Secret Service is precluded from proffering any purported legitimate non-discriminatory reason why the eight named Plaintiffs were not selected for promotions in response to the individual Plaintiffs’ prima facie case.
The Magistrate Judge had sanctioned the Secret Service for the Agency’s deliberate non-compliance with discovery obligations and court orders, calling the Agency’s “recalcitrance” in producing evidence “the most prominent feature of the record in this action.” After a sixteen-day evidentiary hearing, during which it was revealed that the Secret Service failed to preserve, concealed, and even burned key evidence, Magistrate Judge Robinson announced that the Secret Service has “made a mockery” of federal discovery rules, court orders, and the evidentiary hearing held on this matter.
May 2008: As part of the discrimination lawsuit, the Secret Service was ordered to turn over evidence. The agency paid an outside auditor more than $2 million to search 20 million e-mails and other electronic documents dating back 16 years. Ironically, the agency only submitted 10 e-mails to the court.
Among the 10 e-mails submitted to the court in a separate filing were jokes circulated within the agency that referred to the way a “20-year-old 5th grader” in Harlem spoke; assassination of the Rev. Jesse Jackson; and the work ethic of a black golf caddy.
A deputy assistant director, who was suspended, sent one of the e-mails. In addition, one of the supervisors who sent an e-mail was on then Senator Barack Obama’s security detail for eight months. The supervisor was taken off the security detail and was later promoted to a position at the agency’s Washington headquarters.
May 2008: The Secret Service placed a white agent on leave after a black employee reported finding a noose hanging at the service’s main training facility outside the nation’s capital.
The agency acknowledged “an allegation of misconduct” at its Rowley Training Center in Beltsville, Md., and that an employee was placed on administrative leave in April 2008 pending the outcome of an investigation. The employee was a veteran agent with the service, according to fellow agents.
According to FOIA documents, in all of the cases in which the white USSS agents were suspended with pay, none of them were removed from service or demoted. Some of the agents were allowed to retire with full credentials and Security Clearance intact. In fact, we uncovered documents, which clearly shows that a culture of privilege exists in the USSS which USSS Director Sullivan and Deputy Director A.T. Smith are fully aware of.
For example, San Diego County News found a February 6, 2007 and September 5, 2007 documents which shows USSS employees Robert Gombar and Cary Rosoff, using a federal government computer from their workstation, to send pornographic and sexually explicit emails/pictures to other existing and retired USSS agents who work at other federal agencies located at Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Education, State Department, and the Social Security Administration. In the February 6, 2007 email, Rosoff goes on a heated partisan attack on Democrats for being soft on terrorism, attacks gays and lesbians, and mentions Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), U.S. Senator Harry Reed (D-NV), former Democratic presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and then Senator Obama in a negative tone, which clearly violates the Hatch Act, which is a U.S. federal law whose main provision is to prohibit federal employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the President and the Vice President, from engaging in partisan political activity.
FOIA records reveal that between 2004 and 2009, federal employees at the USSS and other federal agencies sent emails and documents to Senator Charles Grassley, U.S. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) referencing to alleged USSS violations of federal rules and regulations governing sexual harassment, hostile work environment and discrimination.
USSS Director Sullivan refused to return our phone calls to address the above incidents and allegations. FOIA records also showed that once a senior level management employee was suspended, all infractions relating to the incident were removed from the individual Official Personnel Folder after six months to a year.
The Hotel Caribe Scandal: Breach of Security is Serious
The following is an April 14 statement from Assistant Director Paul S. Morrissey, U.S. Secret Service Office of Government and Public Affairs: “On Thursday, April 12, 2012, allegations of misconduct were made against 11 Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia, in advance of the President’s trip. These personnel were comprised of both special agents and Uniformed Division officers, none of whom are assigned to the Presidential Protective Division.
We emphasized and placed in bold the last part of the statement to show how USSS Director Mark Sullivan is spinning the scandal as a “tempest in a teapot” – need not to worry folks – the president’s life was never in danger. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Four presidents have been killed in the U.S., and none has been injured abroad. Nevertheless, former Secret Service agents say foreign travel poses their greatest security challenge.
“These idiots seriously compromised and breached the security and safety of the president. You never allow anyone, particularly a foreign nationalist, inside the security perimeter,” says a former Secret Service supervisor who helped coordinate security planning from 1982 to 1990 while stationed in Europe and the U.S. “For my fellow colleagues at the Secret Service to go around Congress saying that the president’s life was never in danger is f—–g crap.”
The former Secret Service agent stated that agents are thoroughly trained in maintaining discipline while in the field on duty. “There is no excuse for what occurred in Columbia last week – and all of those responsible for this embarrassment on the agency, our country and the Office of the President, should be fired!”
The agent, who now lives in Virginia, went as far to say that these types of “carousing with call girls and prostitutes while on duty” is more common than the agency would have us to believe.
“Look, these men have strong masculine sexual desires. I, along with a number of my Secret Service buddies, would meet up with call girls after our official duties were over – but never before or during the operation,” the agent admitted.
An agent in the Miami field office, who occasionally work as an Advance Team member similar to the one sent to Colombia, told San Diego County News that Paula Reid, the new African American Secret Service boss for the South American region, and the Miami field office director, was in Cartagena, Columbia for the president’s visit, made the right call by pulling all the agents out of Columbia: “but she upset the old guard establishment of white senior agents who opposed her actions.”
According to an April 21 Washington Post article: “… when Reid received an urgent report: A prostitute, upset because she had not been paid by a Secret Service agent, had created a disturbance in a nearby hotel, knocking on doors and yelling in the hallways at daybreak. For Reid, the moment was not without risk, opening her to a potential internal backlash for ruining the men’s careers and, once the news became public, embarrassing an agency that prides itself on maintaining a stoic public face. Officials familiar with the probe said Reid had Director Mark Sullivan’s endorsement as she took swift steps to handle the matter, but some agents said another senior manager might have been less aggressive.”
“Paula is a no-nonsense, by-the-book professional who does not take any s–t from nobody,” says a Washington, DC Secret Service agent. Even though initial reports stated that Director Sullivan threw his support behind Reid, Deputy Director Smith was not as supportive.
“Smitty (Deputy Director A.T. Smith) was a little apprehensive about calling all the boys home – he felt we should have mitigated the incident and kept it quiet,” says the agent, who wanted to remain anonymous because agents are under orders not to comment to the press.
The USSS has made modest progress over the past decade as has most federal law enforcement agencies when it comes to hiring more people of color in its Special Agents and senior management ranks. However, the agency has been slow to implement meaningful change and to resolve the 12-year-old discrimination suit. The Hotel Caribe scandal clearly shows that there is a serious lack of discipline coupled with the Secret Service’s failure to follow its own security procedures after determining that a Virginia couple, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, managed to slip into a November 2009 state dinner at the White House even though they were not on the guest list.
The motto of the USSS is Worthy of Trust and Confidence. This past week has been one of the darkest days for the men and women of the Secret Service since John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It is not just the Hotel Caribe scandal and the relentless negative news that is giving the agency a black eye. No, it is the culmination of events, which are internally controlled, that is giving the agency its greatest challenges ever.
The continuous disparagement of female agents by male colleagues and supervisors, the racially and insensitive remarks and emails sent by white agents, and the USSS fraternity of white agents who get together and talk about African Americans and other minorities with insults and disdain — are the core issues the Congress and President Barack Obama should be addressing.
USSS Director Mark Sullivan has been with the agency close to 30 years now – and African Americans, women, people with disabilities, and other groups, which do not fit into the sphere of the world according to management, are left feeling degraded. This is unacceptable.
Abraham Lincoln said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Power can be described as a great river; while within bounds it is both beautiful and useful. Nevertheless, when it overflows its bounds, it destroys. Sullivan, and the majority of his management staff, has failed to understand that the danger of power lies in the fact that those who are vested with it tend to make its preservation their first concern. Therefore, they will naturally oppose any significant and meaningful changes in the forces that have given them this power. The history of Washington, DC tells us that power leads to the abuse of power, and abuse of power leads to loss of power.
Director Sullivan and the senior management team have lost the trust and confidence of their fellow colleagues, the Congress, and the American people. The five core values of the agency represent each point of the Secret Service star: justice, duty, courage, honesty, and loyalty. Director Sullivan has not shown leadership in any of the notable core values as listed – no justice for the African American plaintiffs in the 12-year-old lawsuit; where is the duty, courage and honesty to stand for what is right and fair Director Sullivan. In addition, most importantly, where is your loyalty?
Is your loyalty to those men who look like you and come from a similar background? Are you beholden to protect the status quo, your position or keep the secrets of the organization from getting out? Your loyalty and that of every federal employee is this: “I do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.”
Director Sullivan should resign immediately and the president should appoint someone who does not have blinded loyalty to a specific group of people, but who will support and defend the Constitution of the United States; and appoint someone who can restore the core values of the agency so it can have true meaning, ownership and value to all Secret Service employees.