WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Secret Service officials ordered agents away from their posts patrolling the White House perimeter in 2011 to check on a personal friend and assistant of the agency's former director, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The Secret Service agents were diverted to monitor a rural residence outside La Plata, Maryland, nearly a one-hour drive from Washington.
Agents were told that then-director Mark Sullivan was concerned that his assistant, Lisa Chopey, was being harassed by her neighbor. They were sent to monitor the neighbor over a period of two months, the newspaper said, citing three unnamed people familiar with the operation.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed that an "investigative" vehicle was sent to check on the physical safety of Chopey, an employee, but said this only occurred on the Fourth of July weekend in 2011.
"These checks were conducted over a holiday weekend and ended once the employee was able to contact the local court once it reopened," Donovan said in a statement, noting President Barack Obama and his family were at Camp David in Maryland at the time.
The agents sent to La Plata were members of a Secret Service team code-named "Prowler" that patrols the area around the White House in an investigative capacity with no specific assignment, Donovan said. They are not part of the president's personal security detail.
"Because there were no protective assets used during these checks, there was no impact on protective operations," Donovan said, adding that the action followed department protocol.
The Post said some Secret Service agents were concerned that the diversions of agents to Chopey's home had increased security risks and were a potentially illegal use of government resources, citing two people familiar with those discussions.
The matter was referred to the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security, an internal watchdog that conducts investigations.
The White House had no immediate comment on the matter.
The report comes about two years after the Secret Service was embroiled in controversy over an investigation into agents hiring prostitutes in Colombia ahead of an Obama trip there in 2012. Sullivan retired from the Secret Service about 10 months later, in February 2013.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Jim Loney and Paul Simao)