The State Department on Monday staunchly rejected a news report that claimed high-ranking department officials had quashed several internal investigations into allegations of sexual assault, drug dealing, prostitution solicitation and other criminal activity by American diplomatic personnel overseas in recent years.
“The notion that we would not vigorously pursue criminal misconducts in a case — in any case — is preposterous,” said State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki. “We’ve put individuals behind bars for criminal behavior. Ambassadors would be no exception.”
Her remarks came in response to a report Monday by CBS News, which contended that officials in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security had been “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” from looking into reports of potential criminal activities by diplomats.
In one case, according to the CBS report, a State Department security official in Beirut was accused of sexually assaulting foreign nationals hired as embassy guards. In another, members of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s security detail were accused of regularly pursuing prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries. Another referenced a suspected illegal narcotics ring tied to State Department contractors at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
The CBS report maintained that the charges — as well as the move by State Department higher-ups to squash any investigations into the cases — came to light last year during a performance review of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security conducted by the State Department’s office of inspector general.
The case also comes just a year after widely reported misconduct involving prostitutes that ensnared more than a dozen Secret Service agents on trip to Cartagena, Colombia, ahead of a visit by President Obama. The incident proved a deep embarrassment to the service, which is part of the Treasury Department, and Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan stepped down in February.
While an early draft of the State Department inspector general’s review had detailed the cases in question, a final February report posted on the inspector general’s website made no mention of them.
The discrepancy set off something of a media firestorm Monday, with some news reports suggesting the inspector general’s office may itself have been a party to a “cover-up” at the State Department.
Mrs. Psaki rejected the notion, telling reporters that in fact the department is “conducting investigations into all of these cases.”
An official in the inspector general’s office, meanwhile, said the reason the final February report made no reference to the incidents cited by CBS was because the charges were of a criminal nature.
“The report that’s posted on our website is an inspection report, meaning it’s a report by our office on inspections,” said Doug Welty, the inspector general’s congressional and public affairs officer. “It’s not an audit, which has a different set of standards. In this case, the inspection team made a referral about the several allegations to our office of investigations and now that work is ongoing.
“Anytime there are allegations of criminal misconduct, they are immediately referred to our office of investigations,” Mr. Welty said.
If the charges are corroborated and criminal activity is suspected, he added, the cases are then referred to the Justice Department.