State Department Handling of Sex-Assault Claims ReviewedNicole Gaouette
The U.S. State Department’s ability to investigate wrongdoing by employees is being reviewed after a report of cover-ups of alleged criminal activity, including sexual assaults, the use of prostitutes by security staff and an ambassador suspected of trolling a park for sex.
The department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security has requested a “review by outside, experienced law enforcement officers” who are working with the inspector general’s office to “make expert assessments about our current procedures,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington yesterday.
An internal memo obtained by CBS News from the department’s inspector general listed eight examples of alleged wrongdoing by agency staff or contractors. Among them were allegations that a security official in Beirut committed sexual assaults on foreign nationals, that members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail engaged prostitutes while on official travel and that an ambassador who “routinely ditched” his security detail was suspected by auditors of doing so in order to solicit prostitutes.
In addition, a drug ring operating near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad allegedly supplied contractors working there.
“We take allegations of misconduct seriously, and we investigate thoroughly,” Psaki said. “All cases mentioned in the CBS report were thoroughly investigated” or are under investigation, and “the department continues to take action.”
Internal State Department investigations are conducted by the Diplomatic Security service, the law enforcement arm that protects Secretary of State John Kerry as well as ambassadors abroad.
“Hindering such cases calls into question the integrity of the investigative process, can result in counterintelligence vulnerabilities and can allow criminal behavior to continue,” according to the inspector general’s memo cited by CBS.
The department “would never condone any undue influence on any report or investigation,” Psaki said.
Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was “appalled” at the alleged misconduct and interference described in the CBS report. The California Republican said he had asked congressional staff members to begin an investigation.
“The notion that any or all of the cases contained in news reports would not be investigated thoroughly by the department is unthinkable,” Royce said in an e-mailed statement, adding that he planned to raise the matter with Kerry.
An inspector general’s report in February found failings in the Diplomatic Security bureau’s ability to investigate problems within the State Department. The security service “lacks clearly stated professional investigative standards for investigative functions,” according to the report.
It said that “independence, both in fact and appearance, from undue influence by higher authorities concerning the opening and conduct of cases” is an essential standard and Diplomatic Security’s investigative division “does not have that independence.”
The report CBS cited was compiled by members of the inspector general’s office, including Aurelia Fedenisn. She worked there from August 9, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2012, according to Douglas Welty, a spokesman for the office.
Fedenisn told CBS that Diplomatic Security officers in the special investigations division told her and others about “allegations of criminal wrongdoing and cases, some of which never became cases.”
“We were very upset,” Fedenisn told CBS. “We expect to see influence, but the degree to which that influence existed and how high up it went was very disturbing.”
State Department agents were told to stop investigating the case of the ambassador who regularly ditched his security patrol and was suspected of seeing prostitutes in a public park, according to the memo as cited by CBS.
The ambassador was called to Washington for a meeting with Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy and subsequently returned to his posting, CBS said, citing sources it didn’t identify.
The inspector general’s memo also said that visits to prostitutes by members of Clinton’s security detail were “endemic,” according to the news report.
Four Diplomatic Security agents got a one-day suspension and others were admonished regarding alleged visits to prostitutes, according to CBS.
In advance of an April 2012 trip to Colombia that Clinton went on with President Barack Obama, members of the president’s Secret Service detail were caught frequenting local prostitutes. Nine were found to have engaged in “serious misconduct.”