They called it “Operation Moonlight,” an accurate name for the use of federal authority to intimidate the neighbors of a Secret Service employee caught up in a feud. In May, the Washington Post exposed the reassignment of a USSS detail to intervene on behalf of then-Director Mark Sullivan’s assistant Lisa Chopey. The detail that the Secret Service reassigned was supposed to patrol the area of the White House, and at least on two occasions the diversion took place while President Barack Obama was in the residence. The neighbor on whom they spied turned out to be a 22-year employee of the FBI.
A new Inspector General report calls this “problematic,” which is either an understatement or the use of dry humor:
A new government investigation questions a bizarre Secret Service mission that pulled agents from their assignment near the White House and sent them to the rural Maryland home of a headquarters employee embroiled in a personal dispute with a neighbor.
The report by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general calls the conduct “problematic,” and says that the employee’s friendship with high-level Secret Service officials creates the appearance it was motivated by personal relations “rather than furthering official government functions.”
Er … no kidding. That was, in fact, the only real motivation:
A Secret Service employee who worked as the assistant to then-director, Mark Sullivan, was involved in a dispute with her neighbor, who was harassing her and assaulted her father. This “resulted in the loss of several of her father’s teeth,” the report says.
Local police arrested the neighbor, and the employee, identified by the Post as Lisa Chopey, sought out a protective order. But it didn’t stop there. She told investigators that Keith Prewitt, then the deputy director of the Secret Service, was a family friend. And when he heard her story, Prewitt told A.T. Smith, then the assistant director for investigations, that the Secret Service should do something to help her out.
Smith directed one of his managers to have agents drive out to Chopey’s home in La Plata, Md., to check on her. The report says that Sullivan, the agency director who’s since retired, was made aware of that decision.
The detail about the arrest by local police didn’t make it into the original Post report. The Post did mention the protective order, as well as the eventual Alford plea by Michael Mulligan that settled the case. Even though the local police and courts were handling the case themselves, Sullivan and Smith interjected themselves into a case where they had no authority and no jurisdiction to conduct surveillance on a family that had made no threat whatsoever to the President’s life. What other possible motivation could they have except to abuse their power for personal reasons?
Mulligan’s live-in girlfriend at the time, Brenda Allen, had worked for the FBI for most of her adult life, and described how it felt to have the Secret Service spying on her and her kids:
Sullivan retired in March 2013, but A. T. Smith still works at the Secret Service. In fact, he got promoted to the #2 slot of deputy director — and that left him in charge after the resignation of Julia Pierson, at least for the short period before Obama appointed Joe Clancy acting director. Why, after this abuse of power and waste of resources in an already-dysfunctional protection regimen, was Smith allowed to stay? That seems more than just “problematic,” especially for a government which is supposedly restricted by jurisdictional boundaries.