By Nicole Gaouette
June 13 (Bloomberg) -- A U.S. State Department document alleging sex crimes, secret affairs and interference with investigations has Congress demanding answers about the way a second federal agency handles reports of sexual misconduct.
The four-page memo acknowledges that some of the information came from second-hand sources, says “stories differ” about whether supervisors intruded into one case and cites what it calls a “rumor” about another incident.
The internal memo from the State Department inspector general’s staff says inspectors hadn’t reviewed case files. Allegations, it says, were drawn from interviews with personnel from the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which investigates internal malfeasance, including agents passing along information they’d heard “from colleagues in what, given cubicles, can be a collegial environment.”
The State Department memo became public as the Pentagon fights criticism that the military hasn’t been aggressive enough in prosecuting or preventing sexual assaults in the ranks.
“I am deeply troubled by the allegations,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, said in a letter June 11 to Secretary of State John Kerry. “The notion that any or all of these cases would not be investigated thoroughly by the department is unacceptable.”
Asked about the issue yesterday, Kerry told reporters that all State Department employees “are held to the highest standards of behavior” and that he’s confident about the inspector general’s decision to have outsiders conduct a review. “The department welcomes that because we do want the highest standards applied,” he said.
Royce gave Kerry a June 25 deadline to identify any State Department officials who may have stymied investigations and to turn over documents and communications involving eight cases cited in the memo, which was first reported by CBS News. The memo was written when Hillary Clinton led the department as secretary of state.
The October 2012 inspector general’s memo contains “unsubstantiated accusations,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said June 11.
“Prior to the drafting of this memo, the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security had already started looking into or completed the process of looking into these individual incidents,” Psaki said at a briefing. “All of these cases have been or will be brought to their logical conclusions.”
The memo, written in connection with an assessment of Diplomatic Security operations, describes reports that a married agent stationed in Baghdad had conducted an affair with his female subordinate and “numerous” affairs with men, “presenting counterintelligence concerns.”
It passes along allegations that a U.S. ambassador solicited sex from prostitutes and children and charges that security agents assigned to protect Clinton consorted with prostitutes in the same hotel where the secretary of state was staying.
Aurelia Fedenisn, a retired State Department inspector general’s investigator who brought the memo to light, has said senior State and Diplomatic Security officials discouraged further investigation into these cases.
“We expect to see influence, but the degree to which that influence existed and how high up it went was very disturbing,” she told CBS in an interview, which didn’t describe the sources of the information.
The memo says Cheryl Mills, who was Clinton’s chief of staff, “allegedly” interceded to keep agents from interviewing Brett McGurk about charges he shared e-mails with a reporter in Iraq in 2008, during President George W. Bush’s administration. In June 2012, McGurk withdrew his name from consideration to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq after e-mails to the reporter were posted on the Web.
The allegation “doesn’t make sense” because McGurk “completely cooperated and subsequently met with DS twice to help them complete their work,” Clinton spokesman Nicholas Merrill said June 11 in an e-mail. A State Department official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, corroborated Merrill’s comments and said Diplomatic Security has completed its investigation. McGurk remains at the State Department in good standing, the official said.
The memo was part of a regular review to see how well the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security manages internal investigations. The bureau also protects the secretary of state at all times and diplomats when they are abroad,
“Here are brief summaries of the mentioned cases which came up in interviews of personnel” assigned to Diplomatic Security’s investigative arm, the memo starts.
“To date, inspectors have not reviewed any of the case files,” it says. “The sources of information sometimes are one or more agents assigned to the case. Sometimes the sources are one or more other agents who became aware of the case from colleagues in what, given cubicles, can be a collegial environment.”
Nothing from the memo made its way into a public report in March 2013. The report found that DS, as the security operation is known inside the agency, “lacks clearly stated professional investigative standards for investigative functions” and lacks “independence, both in fact and appearance, from undue influence by higher authorities concerning the opening and conduct of cases.”
Psaki, who wouldn’t comment on individual cases mentioned in the memo, said June 11 that the Diplomatic Security bureau is now undergoing a review by outside law-enforcement experts in response to the report. The State Department takes “every allegation seriously,” she said.
The memo said that one agent “determined” that an ambassador based in Europe “routinely ditched his security detail in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” The ambassador’s security detail and agents provided by the host country were “well aware” of the behavior, the memo said.
The New York Post on June 11 identified the man as Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium. Gutman released a statement June 11 saying that he was “angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press.” Gutman said it was “devastating” to see his four years of service “smeared.”
The memo claims that the agent looking into the allegations was told to stop the investigation and submit a memo to Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy.
Kennedy, a State Department veteran of more than 40 years, released a statement saying that “it is my responsibility to make sure the department and all of our employees -- no matter their rank -- are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation.”
Gutman, who remains in his post, raised at least $500,000 for President Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finances. Presidents of both parties often name big fundraisers to plum diplomatic posts.
A more PG-rated accusation involves a woman agent, with three children, who was accused of claiming full-time pay for several years while putting in minimal hours.
Diplomatic Security managers “appear to have taken pity” on the agent and “preemptively moved to preclude both criminal charges and administrative penalties,” the memo says. As a result, it says the woman “will have a ‘clean’ record if she subsequently applies for another law-enforcement job.”
Most cases mentioned in the memo cite allegations that officials within the Diplomatic Security bureau hindered probes. Most of the focus has been on higher-ranking political officials, with Royce seeking the names of State Department officials who instructed Diplomatic Security not to pursue any of the eight cases identified in the memo.