Last Updated May 11, 2014 10:04 PM EDT
Members of the Secret Service unit responsible for guarding the White House perimeter were diverted from their usual posts for roughly two months in 2011 to protect the assistant of the agency's then-Director Mark Sullivan, three people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post.
Sullivan was concerned that the assistant, Lisa Chopey, was being harassed by a neighbor in La Plata, Maryland, about an hour outside of D.C. Beginning on June 30, 2011, twice a day, two agents were dispatched to Chopey's home to keep watch as part of an assignment called Operation Moonlight. The vigil was maintained through the summer.
Sullivan, who left the agency in 2013 and now runs a private security company, told the Post in a statement that he did not personally order the agents to monitor Chopey's home, but he said the action was appropriate.
"The U.S. Secret Service always has taken seriously threats made against employees and responds as appropriate," he explained. "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."
The men who did order the operation, David Beach and Jim Donaldson, were two senior agents with the Washington field office. Both men have since been promoted, and they declined to comment.
Two people familiar with the matter told the Post they were concerned that Operation Moonlight increased security risks to President Barack Obama and the White House grounds.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed the operation but disputed its duration, saying agency records reflect agents were diverted for a period of only a few days over July 4 weekend. He did not release the records cited.
Donovan also said there was no impact on the president's protection because the agents sent to monitor Chopey were part of an investigative unit. "There were no protective assets used during these checks," he said.
In a statement Sunday, the Secret Service said Director Julia Pierson had contacted Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Roth and that both "are committed to completing a full investigation into these allegations."
Pierson "is committed to ensuring public trust and confidence in the Secret Service through the professionalism and integrity of its workforce at all levels," the statement said. "Any allegations of impropriety or misconduct will be aggressively investigated and addressed."Still, the incident is sure to generate heightened scrutiny for an agency that has taken more than its share of black eyes in recent years. In April 2012, during a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia, 13 Secret Service agents were sent home after several were suspected of soliciting prostitutes.
And in March 2014, while the president was in the Netherlands for a summit, three agents that accompanied him were sent back to D.C. after an alleged night of heavy drinking. One of the agents was discovered asleep in a hotel hallway the following morning.