Strategic Leaking.

Early in life, Jason Chaffetz (R, Utah) had a notion that he could be a Secret Service agent. Or maybe an outfielder for the Yankees. Or maybe Superman. (But I repeat myself.) So, in 2003, he filled out the Secret Service application. (May have worked on his fielding skills or bought a spandex costume for all I know.) Kids often don’t have a sense of their own real talents or inclinations. Chaffetz didn’t make the cut as a Secret Service agent. He got a letter that said that “better qualified applicants existed.”[1] Then they go on and do something better suited to themselves. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkX-TPaodoM For his part, Chaffetz went into politics, ending up—so far—as a Congersman. (See: Pogo). Chaffetz serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.[2]

Then the Secret Service (which is mostly charged with protecting the President of the United States), got in the glue. In April 2012, it was alleged that eleven members of the president’s security detail (and some U.S. military personnel) hired prostitutes while protecting the President at an international conference at Cartagena, Colombia. More revelations of frat-boy behavior followed. Worse, there have been several incidents in which White House security has been breached without much difficulty. Then, in early 2015, a couple of senior Secret Service officers went out “for a taste,” as they delicately phrase it in “The Wire.” Upon returning to duty at the White House, they crashed their car into one of the security barriers. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigated the widely-reported incident.

One of the scathing interrogators on that committee was Jason Chaffetz. He issued a bunch of subpoenas for more information. In the wake of that interrogation, a bunch of Secret Service officers began digging for information (i.e.”dirt”) on Chaffetz. Some gained access to Chaffetz’s failed application for the Secret Service. Doubtless, the files contained information explaining the rejection of Chaffetz.[3]

Then Faron Paramore, the head of public affairs for the Secret Service sent the information to Edward Lowery, an assistant director. Lowery replied that “Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair.” Two days later, the story about Chaffetz’s failed application to join the Secret Service appeared in “The Daily Beast.”

This led to an investigation by the Inspector General (IG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Paramore stated that he did not reply to Lowery’s e-mail; Lowery stated that he did not order anyone to leak the information to the press. The IG could not determine who among the “likely…hundreds” of Secret Service agents who had received the information leaked it to the press.

Why does this squalid little story matter? It matters, first, because of the misuse of damaging or embarrassing information by the late long-time director of the F.B.I, J. Edgar Hoover. His “Personal and Confidential” files were used to intimidate politicians and government officials. It matters, second, because of Edward Snowden’s initial revelations about the bulk interception of phone and other media communications of Americans by the NSA.[4]

The chilling effect could run from Congressional critics to ordinary citizen activists.

[1] That’s nothing. I got a letter from Harvard that said that “many (my emphasis, although actually it might have been their emphasis) better qualified applicants existed.” My life-course supports their judgment.

[2] Michael Schmidt, “Senior Secret Service Official Proposed Embarrassing a Critic in Congress,” NYT, 1 October 2015.

[3] I have no idea what that information might be. What do you want people to not know about you?

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

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