WASHINGTON – A U.S. watchdog has launched an inquiry into claims that diplomatic security officials tried to cover up alleged sex-and-drugs charges against agents and diplomats, an official said Monday.
State Department diplomatic security agents are responsible for protecting 275 U.S. embassies as well as the secretary of state — and the bureau last came under fire for the 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Now, in a new blow to the agency’s credibility, a watchdog has called in outside law enforcement officers to investigate its procedures, amid claims it tried to hush up allegations of the use of prostitutes by agents and even an underground drug ring supplying contractors.
An internal memo by the State Department’s inspector general found eight cases in which inquiries into alleged criminal activity by diplomatic security agents or contractors were influenced or halted, CBS television reported.
They included allegations that security agents protecting former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries,” CBS said, quoting from the memo, a problem the report says was “endemic.”
It also revealed details of an “underground drug ring” near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that was said to supply drugs to contractors working for diplomatic security. In one case, officials told the inspector general they were told to stop investigating a U.S. ambassador “who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park,” CBS reported.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday did not deny any of the allegations contained in the CBS report, but refused to go into specifics.
“We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly. All cases mentioned in the CBS report were thoroughly investigated or are under investigation,” she insisted to reporters. She dismissed the idea that the State Department would not hand over for prosecution any of its 70,000 staff if they were found to have engaged in criminal activity.
“I can say broadly that the notion that we would not vigorously pursue criminal misconducts in any case is preposterous,” she said. “We’ve put individuals behind bars for criminal behavior. There is record of that. Ambassadors would be no exception.”
Pskai vowed “any case . . . we would investigate, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” but she dismissed the notion that behavior such as using prostitutes was endemic. “Last year alone, the detail accompanied then-Secretary Clinton to 69 countries with more than 10,000 person-nights spent in hotels abroad. So I’m not going to speak to specific cases . . . but it is hardly endemic,” she said.
A former investigator with the inspector general, Aurelia Fedenisn, said: “We also uncovered several allegations of criminal wrongdoing in cases, some of which never became cases.”
But members of the diplomatic security bureau told the inspector general’s investigators to back off, she alleged.
“We were very upset. We expect to see influence, but the degree to which that influence existed and how high up it went, was very disturbing,” she said.