WASHINGTON (AP) -- Members of a Secret Service special unit responsible for patrolling near the White House were pulled off that assignment over at least two months in 2011 to protect the assistant of the agency's director while she was engaged in a dispute with a neighbor, according to a report in The Washington Post.
Agents were told that the Secret Service director at the time, Mark Sullivan, was concerned that his assistant was being harassed by her neighbor, the Post reported in a story posted Saturday night on its website. The newspaper cited three people familiar with the operation but did not provide their names.
The agents were pulled from a surveillance team that patrols the outskirts of the White House compound and monitors the southern side of the executive mansion whenever crowds gather to watch the president and first family travel via motorcade or helicopter, the Post reported.
Agents inside the Washington field office were concerned that the diversion of agents increased security risks to the compound and the president, two people familiar with the discussion told the newspaper. A spokesman for the agency told the Post that the agents involved were not part of the president's protective detail and therefore the operation had no impact on it.
Sullivan left the Secret Service in 2013 nearly a year after a scandal involving members of the presidential protection team hiring prostitutes ahead of a trip by President Barack Obama to Colombia in 2012. In a statement to the Post, Sullivan said a supervisor in his office authorized the visits to the assistant's home without his knowledge, that they lasted only a few days and that they were appropriate given the report of threats to an employee.
Called "Operation Moonlight" within the agency, the assignment that summer of 2011 called for two agents twice a day, in the morning and at night, to monitor the home of his assistant, the Post reported. The residence was in rural area outside the southern Maryland town of La Plata, nearly an hour's drive from Washington.
Two agents put on Operation Moonlight thought the reassignment was a potentially illegal use of government resources and were concerned enough about their own liability that they kept records of their involvement and their superiors' instructions, the Post reported. Some informed the inspector general for the Homeland Security Department about the operation, the newspaper said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the White House was not aware of the allegations involving the president's protection and referred questions to the Secret Service, according to the Post.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed that agents were pulled off their White House duty to check on the safety of the director's assistant. However, he disputed accounts that Operation Moonlight lasted for months, saying agency records indicated that the assignment took place for only a few days over the Fourth of July weekend.
Donovan said the operation was part of the agency's standard response to potential threats to an employee.