FBI agents re­called over hook­ers

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - ARUNA VISWANATHA WASH­ING­TON

Sev­eral FBI em­ploy­ees sta­tioned in cities across Asia have been re­called to Wash­ing­ton in re­cent months while the agency in­ves­ti­gates al­le­ga­tions re­lated to par­ties and in­ter­ac­tions with pros­ti­tutes.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor-gen­eral is ex­am­in­ing the al­le­ga­tions, which in­volve FBI per­son­nel in half a dozen cities, in­clud­ing in East and South­east Asia, said peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

The FBI said it re­ferred the al­le­ga­tions to its in­spec­tor- gen­eral. “Upon learn­ing of these al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct, ac­tion was taken to re­as­sign cer­tain per­son­nel to non-op­er­a­tional roles while the al­le­ga­tions are re­viewed,” the agency said.

A spokesman for the in­spec­tor-gen­eral de­clined to com­ment.

The al­le­ga­tions are a po­ten­tial black eye for an agency that has be­come a mag­net for crit­i­cism as it has tried to nav­i­gate some of the big­gest po­lit­i­cal bat­tles of the year.

The FBI was asked to briefly re­open a back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tion into judge Brett Ka­vanaugh fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault, which he de­nied. And the FBI has been at the cen­tre of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, in­clud­ing any links to the Trump cam­paign.

The per­sonal con­duct of FBI agents came un­der scru­tiny af­ter the dis­clo­sure of anti-Trump text mes­sages be­tween two then-FBI em­ploy­ees who had been in­volved in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails, prompt­ing some Repub­li­cans to ac­cuse the bureau of po­lit­i­cal bias.

The FBI has so-called le­gal at­tache of­fices, or “legats,” based at US em­bassies in dozens of cities around the world, where agents work with for­eign coun­ter­parts to com­bat in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism and to ob­tain in­for­ma­tion about crimes the FBI is in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

The posts tend to last sev­eral years, and of­ten in­volve cul­ti­vat­ing re­la­tion­ships with lo­cal of­fi­cials over late-night drinks.

Is­sues in­volv­ing pros­ti­tu­tion have been a par­tic­u­lar con­cern for FBI of­fi­cials, who worry about for­eign in­tel­li­gence ser­vices try­ing to com­pro­mise agents or other US em­bassy per­son­nel, the peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said.

Agents go­ing over­seas re­ceive ex­ten­sive brief­ings on po­ten­tial av­enues through which for­eign of­fi­cers may seek to com­pro­mise them, former agents said.

The ex­act na­ture of al­le­ga­tions against the FBI em­ploy­ees, and the lo­ca­tions of the al­leged ac­tiv­i­ties, could not be de­ter­mined.

Other law en­force­ment agen­cies, in­clud­ing the Se­cret Ser­vice and the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, have dealt with sim­i­lar scan­dals in re­cent years.

In 2015, the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor-gen­eral found that DEA agents sta­tioned in Colom­bia at­tended par­ties with pros­ti­tutes, and in 2012 the Se­cret Ser­vice dis­ci­plined about a dozen agents amid al­le­ga­tions that they brought pros­ti­tutes to their ho­tel rooms in Colom­bia while pre­par­ing for a visit by then-pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

The FBI has largely steered clear of such is­sues, but it has faced some em­bar­rass­ing episodes in re­cent months.

Ear­lier this year, the bureau ad­mit­ted it had re­lied on over­stated statis­tics to ar­rive at the num­ber of en­crypted phones that in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been un­able to ac­cess — an is­sue FBI lead­ers have re­peat­edly cited as one of their big­gest con­cerns.

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