Secret Service special unit members 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 in a dispute with a neighbour.
Agents were told that the service director at the time, Mark Sullivan, was concerned that his assistant was being harassed by her neighbour, T he Washington Post reported. The newspaper did not name its sources.
The agents were removed from a surveillance team that patrols the outskirts of the White House compound and monitors the southern side of the executive mansion whenever crowds gathered 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, sources told the newspaper. A spokesman for the agency said 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 last year, 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 authorised the visits to the assistant's home without his knowledge, that they lasted only a few days and that they were appropriate given there had been a report of threats to an employee.
Called "Operation Moonlight" within the agency, the assignment 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 Maryland, nearly an hour's drive from Washington.
Agents assigned to Operation Moonlight thought the move 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. Some informed the inspector general of the homeland security department about the operation.
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 moved from White House duties 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 around the Independence Day weekend.
Donovan said the operation was part of the agency's standard response to potential threats to an employee.