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Departure adds to concerns about Secret Service probe
DHS official latest to join global security firm
The former head of the Department of Homeland Security's advanced research unit is the latest high-profile DHS official to join a contracting supergroup co-founded by the former director of the Secret Service, reinforcing the concerns of a Senate subcommittee that the agency's inspector general was influenced in his review of the service's prostitution scandal.
Paul Benda, a former science and technology counselor at DHS, joins a number of former DHS officials — some with direct access to DHS Inspector General Charles K. Edwards — as partners with former Secret Service director Mark Sullivan in Global Security Intelligence Strategies (GSIS), a security firm that incorporated in Arizona just weeks after Mr. Sullivan retired from the service.
Mr. Benda's move to GSIS comes as Mr. Edwards continues to work on a "culture report" on the Secret Service that, if issued free of political influence, could reflect poorly on the service under Mr. Sullivan's leadership, according to numerous former agents.
A previous review by Mr. Edwards of the Secret Service's internal probe of the prostitution scandal was clouded by signs that former DHS officials, including at least one of Mr. Sullivan's current business partners, may have influenced the inspector general's 2012 review, according to government sources.
In September, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on contracting oversight, said that "troubling aspects" of Mr. Edwards' review of the internal Secret Service probe included signs of "improper contact" between Mr. Edwards and the former general counsel at DHS, John Sandweg, who now serves as acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Mr. Johnson's remarks came after The Washington Times reported that Mr. Sandweg's closest friend and political ally, Noah Kroloff, former chief of staff at DHS, is a partner and co-founded GSIS with Mr. Sullivan. Mr. Kroloff also reportedly played a key role in pushing for Mr. Sandweg's promotion.
The Senate panel is investigating whether Mr. Sandweg and Mr. Kroloff pressured Mr. Edwards to tread lightly in his review of the Secret Service's internal probe of the 2012 prostitution scandal, according to government sources familiar with the investigation.
Though a publicly released DHS inspector general report lauded Mr. Sullivan's internal probe, a nonpublic report contains discrepancies that suggest the inspector general withheld information damaging to the Secret Service, according to a June letter to Mr. Edwards from the Senate panel.
Lack of cooperation from the inspector general's office and the Obama administration in responding to document requests from the Senate panel has made Mr. Johnson "suspicious," he said recently.
Such concerns are amplified by the parade of DHS officials who have left the agency to form a private firm with Mr. Sullivan. Those officials include Dennis K. Burke, a senior adviser to former Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano, and David Aguilar, former deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
It remains unclear whether and to what extent plans for GSIS were being forged as the inspector general was actively investigating the Secret Service. However, sources familiar with the inner workings of DHS say that Mr. Kroloff and Mr. Sandweg had cultivated a close relationship with Mr. Edwards during that time.
And there is little question that GSIS is building a roster that boasts of deep DHS ties. Sources close to Mr. Kroloff say that he played an instrumental role in placing Mr. Benda in charge of a DHS office that, under an obscure Homeland Security statute, approves liability protection to companies that offer anti-terrorism products and services.
At GSIS, Mr. Benda will "leverage" his DHS resume and advise clients on that statute, known as the Safety Act, according to a news release from the firm.
Industry sources say that Sensity Systems, a company that designs lighting and open networking platforms, has already retained GSIS to pursue Safety Act certification.
The GSIS partners did not return calls for comment.
Meantime, Mr. Sullivan's move from the Secret Service to GSIS left many stones unturned, according to former agents, who claim misconduct by their superiors was swept under the rug on his watch.
Veteran former agents say misconduct at any level can become an issue of national security. "They are successfully making the process the issue to avoid troubling questions about the violations of the code of conduct," said Michael Endicott, who served for 20 years and is now retired. "Homeland Security and the Secret Service would both have problems dealing with the issue of security being compromised."
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