“I am appalled not only at the reported misconduct itself, but at the reported interference in the investigations of the misconduct,” said Royce (R-Calif.).
He was commenting after CBS News reported that an internal memo from the State Department’s internal watchdog, the Office of Inspector General (IG), said Diplomatic Security Service investigations into the misconduct had been “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” by more senior State Department officials.
According to CBS, the IG memo cited allegations of drug use by State Department security contractors in Baghdad; “sexual assaults” on foreign nationals by a State Department security official in Beirut; an “endemic” problem of prostitute use by Clinton’s security personnel during foreign trips; and the case of an American ambassador who allegedly “routinely ditched” his security personnel, raising suspicions that he did so in order to solicit prostitutes.
CBS said that in some cases, agents in the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) had “told the Inspector General’s investigators that senior State Department officials told them to back off.”
“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. “Department interference with the independence of any DSS investigations must be uncovered. I have asked my staff to begin an investigation into these allegations and intend to raise the issue with Secretary Kerry immediately.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a press briefing that all the cases mentioned in the CBS report had been “thoroughly investigated,” adding that in some cases investigations were still underway.
She declined to talk about specific cases, or to say how many had been resolved and how many were still being probed.
Psaki also did not take up an invitation to say whether the department had any problems with the accuracy of the media report.
Pressed specifically on the claim that prostitute use by members of Clinton’s security detail was “endemic,” she disputed this.
“Last year alone, the detail accompanied then-Secretary Clinton to 69 countries with more than 10,000 person-nights spent in hotels abroad,” Psaki said. “So I’m not going to speak to specific cases, as I said at the onset, for obvious reasons. But it is hardly endemic. Any case we would take seriously and we would investigate, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
She said the State Department “would never condone any undue influence” in any investigation. At the same time, she added, DSS “has taken the further step of asking for an additional review by outside, experienced law enforcement officers” in addition to the IG’s investigation.
Royce also raised the point that the post of the IG has been vacant for more than five years.
(The last IG was Howard Krongard, who served from May 2005 until he resigned in December 2007, amid allegations that he thwarted investigations of waste and fraud in Iraq. In June 2008 Harold Geisel was appointed deputy IG and the top post has not been filled since.)
When Kerry took office last February, Royce and the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), asked him to urge President Obama to nominate a permanent IG for the State Department.
“As you well know, qualified, independent Inspectors General play an indispensable role in maintaining the efficacy of those agencies, by minimizing waste, fraud, and abuse,” they said. “At a time of grave fiscal challenges, all of us owe a duty to American taxpayers to ensure that their hard-earned dollars are spent properly, and Inspectors General are an integral part of that commitment.”
Diplomatic Security in the spotlight
DSS is the security and law enforcement arm of the State Department, with responsibilities including securing missions, protecting the secretary of state and visiting foreign dignitaries below head-of-state level, investigating misconduct, carrying out personnel security probes and issuing security clearances.
The notion that senior State Department officials may have thwarted DSS’ attempts to investigate wrongdoing comes against a background of criticism of the way the department has dealt with the division, which has grown rapidly over the past decade.
Some of the problems were aired during congressional inquiries into the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last September.
Testifying before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Benghazi in November, Michael Courts, acting director for international affairs and trade at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), said DSS faced several policy and operational challenges.
“First, State is maintaining missions in increasingly dangerous locations, necessitating the use of more security resources and making it more difficult to provide security in these locations,” the GAO said in written testimony submitted by Courts.
“Second, although Diplomatic Security has grown considerably in staff, staffing shortages, as well as other operational challenges, further tax Diplomatic Security's ability to implement its mission. Finally, State has expanded Diplomatic Security without the benefit of adequate strategic planning.”
Then-committee chairman Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) noted that the GAO had called on the department to carry out “a strategic review of Diplomatic Security so that it can properly allocate its resources and balance security needs with the diplomatic mission.”
“However, the State Department has failed to follow-up on this recommendation with the result, according to GAO, that Diplomatic Security, or DS, fails to perform adequate training and oversight,” she said.