Privacy SOS

Sex and abuse scandals in federal law enforcement revealed this week show importance of government transparency

It's been a very rough press week for federal entities tasked with keeping the American people safe. Here's what a little bit of sunshine on secretive government agencies revealed this week alone:

"Drug Enforcement Administration agents with Top Secret clearances had 'sex parties' with prostitutes hired by Colombian drug cartels, says inspector general report"

  • One DEA Acting Assistant Regional Director had sex with hookers at his own office farewell party – and taxpayer dollars may have paid for it
  • At least 7 agents admitted sleeping with prostitutes while on overseas assignments – while they had Top Secret security clearances
  • Encounters left them open to 'coercion, extortion, and blackmail,' the DOJ's inspector general concluded
  • Three supervisors allegedly also received 'money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members'
  • Instead of firing or prosecuting agents, the DEA treated prostitution cases as 'local management issue' and suspended them for no more than 14 days
  • An FBI agent also spent 7 years on the job sleeping with prostitutes, strippers, students in his classes, and foreign law enforcement officers

"Report: U.S. Soldiers, Contractors Sexually Abused 54 Children in Colombia"

A new report commissioned by the Colombian government and FARC rebels has concluded U.S. soldiers and military contractors sexually abused at least 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007. The investigator cites one case where 53 girls in the town of Melgar were targeted by contractors who filmed the abuse and sold the films as pornography. In another case, a 12-year-old girl was allegedly drugged and raped by a U.S. Army sergeant and a contractor. Under immunity agreements, none of the alleged abusers were ever punished. The media group FAIR notes the story has received no coverage in the U.S. corporate media. A number of U.S. outlets have reported on a new Justice Department probe which concludes U.S. drug enforcement agents in Colombia participated in "sex parties" with prostitutes hired by Colombian drug cartels.

"Air marshals say a party-hearty attitude prevails at the agency"

Faced with a Department of Justice investigation into the men and women charged with protecting U.S. commercial flights from terrorism, former and current air marshals are coming forward to describe a “wheels-up, rings-off” culture rife with adultery, prostitution and other misconduct.

The tone, they say, was set at the top. Former air marshals who worked in the service’s Orlando, Florida, field office say managers directed subordinates to modify assignments for the bosses’ benefit. That included supervisors jumping on flights or bumping air marshals off missions so they could play golf in Scotland, travel to exotic locations or meet a lover.

“I was in high-level meetings where they said, ‘All these air marshals who rat on us are all insurgents. We’re going to fire them. The whistleblowers will be terminated,’ ” said Henry Preston, an air marshal and training instructor in Orlando who retired in 2013 after more than a decade with the service. “They called flying (air marshals) insurgents – the enemy – because they didn’t want their little country club exposed in any way.”

Intelligence and military agencies are constantly seeking more money and power, yet cultivate cultures hostile to transparency and accountability. But transparency and accountability are critical in democratic government, not least when influential agencies are given huge amounts of money and power to spy on and interfere with people's private lives—or in the US military's case, to fight and kill in our names.

Government transparency sounds boring, but without it we the people have no idea what our tax dollars pay for under the banner of the stars and stripes. The examples above demonstrate that we should never simply trust people in power to do the right thing, and leave them to their own devices. Without access to information about what intelligence and military agencies are doing with our money, we have no opportunity to hold them accountable for activities like these. In such an environment, abuses like those described in these news articles are inevitable.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.