Senator Seeks Information on ‘Rogue’ Commerce Department Unit
The Investigative and Threat Management Service is alleged to have targeted department employees and wrongly engaged in counterintelligence operations.
A Republican senator is seeking information about a “rogue” unit within the Commerce Department that is alleged to have operated out of the bounds of its authority.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Monday about the report the Republican staff on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee released last month, which includes allegations dating back to the mid-2010s from over two dozen whistleblowers about the department’s Investigative and Threat Management Service. This followed The Washington Post’s report in May on the unit, established during the George W. Bush administration to provide security services to the Commerce secretary and “critical assets,” an undefined term, according to the committee, such as the agency’s headquarters at the Herbert C. Hoover building. The unit has law enforcement authority from the U.S. Marshals Service’s special deputation program.
“Although many investigations targeted legitimate threats, the [Commerce unit] appears to have opened cases on a variety of employees for the purpose of exaggerating the unit’s ability to uncover security risks within the civil service,” the Senate report said. “The unit targeted visible employees across the department,” which “often resulted in suspended or revoked security clearances, although subsequent reviews largely determined that the unit’s allegations lacked merit.” The unit “broadly targeted” divisions of the department that have high numbers of Asian American employees.
Additionally, employees were targeted if they tried to challenge the unit’s legal standing, which resulted in “an egregious pattern of reprisal,” said the report.
In his letter, Grassley also noted that the Senate committee minority staff found in order to further its “rogue” efforts, the Investigative and Threat Management Service engaged in counterintelligence operations for which it didn’t have the formal authorization and over-classified records, so they could not be released through the Freedom of Information Act and judicial proceedings.
The unit had 17 employees and a $5.38 million budget as of last September, compared to 54,000 employees and $15.2 billion for the department overall, The Post reported.
Grassley, a long-time advocate for whistleblowers, asked the Commerce Department to provide answers to a list of questions about the office by August 17. He noted that the Senate Judiciary Committee had jurisdiction over law enforcement and intelligence activities as well as FOIA.
Some of his questions include: Is George Lee, director of the Investigative and Threat Management Service (a career official), still employed by the Commerce Department? Has the department asked its inspector general to look into what happened and, if not, why not? Have any of the [unit’s] employees been disciplined? Has the department reviewed the unit’s investigations? Is the unit still conducting investigations? If so, under what authority?
The Commerce Department did not respond for comment by the time of this article’s publication. However, department spokeswoman Brittany Caplin told The Post in May that Biden officials ordered the Investigative and Threat Management Service to pause all criminal investigations in March and then in May ordered all activities to be suspended while a review was ongoing.
Grassley has previously reached out to the Marshals Service; Office of the Director of National Intelligence; Homeland Security Department; FBI; and Intelligence Community Inspector General, which provided a response.