Secret Service agents were reportedly ordered to protect home of former director's assistant
Published May 11, 2014
Members of a top Secret Service unit responsible for patrolling the perimeter of the White House were reportedly pulled off their posts for several weeks in the summer of 2011 and ordered to protect the home of the assistant to the agency's then-director.
The Washington Post, citing three people familiar with the operation, reported late Saturday that the agents were sent to a rural area outside La Plata, Md. in what was known as Operation Moonlight. The paper said that agents were told that they were there because then-Secret Service director Mark Sullivan was concerned that his assistant, Lisa Chopey, was being harassed by her neighbor after an altercation.
Operation Moonlight consisted of sending two agents from the so-called Prowler surveillance team to monitor Chopey's home in the morning and evening. The paper reported that the trips began on June 30 of that year and continued through July before slowly tapering off in August.
In addition to their work patrolling the mansion, members of the Prowler team also monitor the southern side of the executive mansion whenever crowds gather to watch the president and first family travel via motorcade or helicopter.
Agents inside the Washington field office were concerned that the diversion of agents increased security risks to the compound and the president, two people familiar with the discussion told the newspaper. A spokesman for the agency told the Post that the agents involved were not part of the president's protective detail and therefore the operation had no impact on it.
Sullivan left the Secret Service in 2013 nearly a year after a scandal involving members of the presidential protection team hiring prostitutes ahead of a trip by President Barack Obama to Colombia in 2012. In a statement to the Post, Sullivan said a supervisor in his office authorized the visits to the assistant's home without his knowledge, that they lasted only a few days and that they were appropriate given the report of threats to an employee.
Two agents put on Operation Moonlight thought the reassignment was a potentially illegal use of government resources and were concerned enough about their own liability that they kept records of their involvement and their superiors' instructions, the Post reported. Some informed the inspector general for the Homeland Security Department about the operation, the newspaper said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the White House was not aware of the allegations involving the president's protection and referred questions to the Secret Service, according to the Post.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed to the paper that agents were pulled off their White House duty to check on the safety of the director's assistant. However, he disputed accounts that Operation Moonlight lasted for months, saying agency records indicated that the assignment took place for only a few days over the Fourth of July weekend.
Donovan said the operation was part of the agency's standard response to potential threats to an employee.