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Secret Service staff left White House to attend to director’s friend

Published time: May 12, 2014 11:32
Uniformed Secret Service members are pictured at the West Wing of the White House (Reuters/Jason Reed)

Uniformed Secret Service members are pictured at the West Wing of the White House (Reuters/Jason Reed)

Top US Secret Service agents were moved away from patrolling the White House perimeter in 2011 to check on a personal friend of the agency’s former director, who was allegedly being harassed by a neighbor.

The former director, Mark Sullivan, was reportedly concerned his friend, Lisa Chopey, who is also his assistant, was being hassled by a neighbor. Instead of guarding the White House, secret service officials were diverted almost an hour away from Washington to La Plata, Maryland, to check on Chopey’s wellbeing in an assignment known as ‘Operation Moonlight,’ the Washington Post reports.

However, agents almost immediately began to question the validity of the operation, believing it to be a potentially illegal use of government resources, as well as putting the safety of President Barack Obama at risk. Two agents were sent twice a day to monitor Chopey, beginning June 30, 2011, instead of carrying out their usual task of patrolling the White House grounds and responding to reported problems.

On the first day of the operation, the unit called out to keep watch on Sullivan’s friend should have been patrolling the southern grounds, but were told to leave minutes before President Barack Obama was about to leave the White House by helicopter – a particularly sensitive security moment for the Secret Service.

The agents involved were concerned enough to keep records of their movements as well as their superiors’ instructions, while some of them also contacted the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security.

In a statement, Secret Service director Julia Pierson said her agency and the inspector general's office were committed to completing a full investigation into the allegations.

"Director Pierson will ensure the Secret Service responds to any findings from this investigation and implements any recommendations or corrective actions identified by the DHS OIG as appropriate," the statement said.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed an "investigative" vehicle was sent to check on the physical safety of Chopey, an employee, but said that only occurred on the July 4 weekend in 2011.

"These checks were conducted over a holiday weekend and ended once the employee was able to contact the local court once it reopened," Donovan said in a statement, noting that President Obama and his family were at Camp David in Maryland at the time.

The former U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan (Reuters/Gary Cameron)

Sullivan is no longer working with the secret service, having left his position 10 months ago after members of the security team designated to protect the president hired prostitutes ahead of Obama’s visit to Colombia.

However, the former director said that he did not personally order the checks on his assistant’s home, which was approved by a superior.

“The US Secret Service always has taken seriously threats made against employees and responds as appropriate,” Sullivan said in a statement through a spokesman. “In this case, the employee followed protocol in reporting concerns about her safety to a supervisor who took action consistent with the seriousness of the situation. I was informed later of those actions.”

Security has been increased during Obama’s presidency, due to concerns that he may face racially-motivated attacks as the US’s first black president.

In November 2011, just five months after ‘Operation Moonlight’ was authorized, a man who said that Obama need to be stopped fired shots from a road overlooking the White House, which hit the wall of the building.

Last week, two people were charged after allegedly throwing objects over the fence in front of the White House. The Secret Service said that one man was believed to have thrown a cassette tape over the fence on the north side, while in a second incident a man threw papers over the fence on the south side of the building.

On May 6, the White House suffered another security breach and was briefly put into lockdown after a car managed to get into a restricted area of Pennsylvania Avenue. The street was closed down in the early evening after a Honda sedan trailed a motorcade that was taking Obama’s daughters to the White House.

The car was stopped outside the northwest gate of the White House and the driver, Matthew Evan Goldstein, had a pass to get into the Treasury Department, which is next to the presidential residence. He was arrested for entering a restricted area.