Barack Obama secret service agents ‘were redeployed to protect home of chief’s assistant’ instead

Removal of White House security further tarnishes the reputation of US Secret Service

Members of Barack Obama’s Secret Service team tasked with guarding the perimeter of the White House – and by extension the US president and his family – were repeatedly taken off their job in the middle of 2011, it was alleged on Sunday, and sent to protect a friend of the then director of the agency who was in a spat with a neighbour.

While officials moved quickly to downplay the extent of what was dubbed by agents directly involved as “Operation Moonlight”, the affair threatens to add another stain to the reputation of the Secret Service, rocked by a booze-and-prostitution scandal two years ago after a presidential visit to Colombia.

In the spotlight are members of what is known as the “Prowler Team”, responsible for patrolling the edges of the White House compound. Its rounds include the Ellipse public park, from where the helicopters named Marine One carry the president in and out of Washington.

According to a report in The Washington Post the diversion of Prowler personnel began in June 2011 and continued for two months after the then director, Mark Sullivan, expressed concern about Lisa Chopey, his assistant. Ms Chopey had claimed that she had been threatened by her neighbours. On the first occasion she is said to have been given assistance, two agents were removed from their posts just as President Barack Obama was preparing to board his helicopter for Philadelphia.

Ms Chopey, who hasn’t commented, lived in rural Maryland at the end of a drive that she shared with her neighbours. The latter confirmed to the Post that they became baffled that summer when unidentified black SUVs began appearing near their property. They had no idea that they were, in fact, under surveillance by the Secret Service.

The vulnerability of the White House has twice been highlighted since Mr Obama became president: first in 2011, when a man fired shots towards the mansion from Constitution Avenue to the south, and then last week when a driver followed a car containing President Obama’s daughters into the White House grounds before agents could stop it. The driver said he was merely lost in the city and was freed without charge.

A spokesman for the Secret Service, Ed Donovan, confirmed that Prowler agents had been diverted to the Ms Chopey’s home but said the operation lasted only a few days rather than two months and that the agents were not directly part of the president’s detail. “Because there were no protective assets used during these checks there was no impact on protective operations,” Mr Donovan said

But, reporting that the operation in fact lasted into the early autumn, the Post said agents involved had kept their own records because they were concerned that the off-the-books mission to the Maryland countryside might come under scrutiny later.

The Secret Service’s near-mythical standing in the United States was severely damaged in 2012 after reports surfaced of excessive drinking and prostitutes being taken to the hotel rooms of agents. The operatives were meant to be protecting Mr Obama while he was in Cartagena, Colombia, for a regional summit.

A spokesman for Mr Sullivan, who is no longer director of the agency, said that he had not personally ordered Prowler agents to Maryland. According to the Post, the orders were given by the two men who were then in charge of the Washington Field Office, David Beach and Jim Donaldson. Neither had offered comment on Sunday night.

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