A former veteran U.S. diplomat and expert on Pakistan is the subject of a federal investigation and had her security clearance revoked last month, the State Department said Thursday.
The department said it is cooperating with a law enforcement probe into Robin Raphel, a one-time ambassador to Tunisia and most recently a senior adviser on civilian aid to Pakistan. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Raphel’s employment technically ended Nov. 2, but that her clearance was pulled in October, effectively ending her employment.
“We are aware of this law enforcement matter,” Psaki said. “The State Department has been cooperating with our law enforcement colleagues on this matter. Ms. Raphel’s appointment expired; she is no longer a State Department employee.”
The FBI declined to comment on the investigation and its exact nature was not immediately clear. But The Washington Post, which first reported the probe, said it was related to counterintelligence and that Raphel’s home in Washington had been searched on Oct. 21, although she has not been charged.
Raphel, who was ambassador to Tunisia and then assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs during the Clinton administration, had retired from the diplomatic corps in 2005 after 30 years of service, but was hired as a contractor in 2009 by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to oversee development aid and civilian assistance to Pakistan. Two years later, she returned to Washington and was working until last month in the office of the U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department.
Her hiring by the embassy in Pakistan had raised some eyebrows because after her retirement from the foreign service she had worked for Cassidy and Associates, which lobbied on behalf of the Pakistani government. Raphel’s connections to Pakistan are deep as her late former husband, Arnold Raphel, served as ambassador in Islamabad. Arnold Raphel was killed in a mysterious 1988 plane crash that also claimed the life of then-Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq.
A new government investigation questions a bizarre Secret Service mission that pulled agents from their assignment near the White House and sent them to the rural Maryland home of a headquarters employee embroiled in a personal dispute with a neighbor.
The report by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general calls the conduct “problematic,” and says the employee’s friendship with high-level Secret Service officials creates the appearance it was motivated by personal relations “rather than furthering official government functions.”
Although agency officials insisted President Barack Obama’s safety was not compromised, the memo notes Obama was at the White House on at least two days that the agents were “a 50-minute drive (without traffic) from the White House” checking on the headquarters employee. The agents assigned to the task were from the agency’s so-called “Prowler” unit, a rotating team of two special agents who are supposed to respond to suspicious people and situations in and around the White House and national capital area.
The inspector general, John Roth, said his office could find no legal authorization for using Secret Service agents “to protect an employee involved in an unrelated private dispute.”
A Secret Service spokesman, Ed Donovan, said in a statement, “The Secret Service has received the OIG memorandum and is reviewing it for findings.” He did not address the findings, and the memo from Roth to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson did not include final recommendations or a response from the Secret Service.
The report was obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its public release Wednesday. It comes as Congress is investigating the Secret Service over a series of security breaches and scandals, including a recent incident where a man with a knife scaled the White House fence and dashed all the way into the East Room.
Compared to that failure and other incidents, including a prostitution scandal in Colombia, “Operation Moonlight” stands as a strange side note. It happened three years ago but came to light this past May in a report in The Washington Post.
A Secret Service employee who worked as the assistant to then-director Mark Sullivan was involved in a dispute with her neighbor, who was harassing her and assaulted her father. This “resulted in the loss of several of her father’s teeth,” the report says.
Local police arrested the neighbor, and the employee, identified by the Post as Lisa Chopey, sought out a protective order. But it didn’t stop there. She told investigators that Keith Prewitt, then the deputy director of the Secret Service, was a family friend. And when he heard her story, Prewitt told A.T. Smith, then the assistant director for investigations, that the Secret Service should do something to help her out.
Smith directed one of his managers to have agents drive out to Chopey’s home in La Plata, Md., to check on her. The report says Sullivan, the agency director who’s since retired, was made aware of that decision.
Prowler teams are not part of the presidential protective division, and agency personnel interviewed for the report insisted their protective function was not compromised. The mission was over before long — five days of visits are documented, with the longest lasting eight hours.
But the report notes that during those times, “the Prowler team would have been unable to respond to exigencies at the White House.” And on at least two of those occasions, Obama was in the residence.
Several of the people named in the report, including Chopey, have retired or moved on from the Secret Service, but Smith is now the agency deputy director. Donovan, the agency spokesman, said Smith would not be made available for an interview. Prewitt and Sullivan, both now working in the private sector, did not respond to phone messages late Tuesday.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who is leading investigations of the Secret Service as chairman of an oversight subcommittee, said Smith should be fired and agency officials’ contention that the president’s safety was not jeopardized by the mission were “hogwash.”
“It shows how problematic the Secret Service is, top to bottom,” Chaffetz said. “This is inexcusable.”
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