In what can only be described as an avoidable embarrassment (not only to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but to the U.S. government) the Wall Street Journal reports that a number of FBI personnel have been recalled to Washington D.C. for “parties and interactions with prostitutes.”

The Wall Street Journal declined to identify the locales, beyond noting the personnel were posted to East and Southeast Asia.

What are Legal Attachés?

According to the FBI website, Legal Attachés conduct the coordination and collaboration between the U.S. federal law enforcement and the law enforcement entities in their area of responsibility. These include high volume engagement in the cybersecurity liaison realm.

The FBI has placed Legal Attaché offices within more than 75 U.S. Embassies abroad. Within Southeast Asia and East Asia offices are presentl Bangkok, Beijing, Canberra, Dhaka, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, New Delhi, Phnom Penh, Seoul, and Tokyo.

In an email to the Journal, the FBI noted that “Upon learning of these allegations of misconduct, action was taken to reassign certain personnel to non-operational roles while the allegations are reviewed.” The investigation, as is the norm within the FBI, will be handled by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

The FBI’s Office of the Inspector General’s March 2004 review of the FBI’s Legal Attaché program. At that time, “misconduct by some Legal staff is a concern” was highlighted, as over a three-year period 13 FBI employees were investigated, none of which involved sexual misconduct. The investigations nonetheless resulted in five suspensions, three letters of censure, two employee counseling and one each, dismissal and resignation. The findings recommended that only the best of the best be given the opportunity to represent the FBI as a member of the Legal Attaché office.

the agents can’t say they weren’t warned

While the FBI’s National Security Division – responsible for the counterintelligence and counterespionage investigations concerning the United States – regularly publishes warnings about engaging in inappropriate conduct. Consorting with prostitutes, while legal in some locales, is viewed unkindly by the powers that be within the FBI – and hungrily by the offensive targeting officers from within hostile intelligence services.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a 7 minute training video highlighting the vulnerability while abroad for both government and travelers, “Know the Risk – Raise Your Shield – Travel Awareness.” While the focus of the training is while in travel mode, when one is resident abroad, the hostile intelligence entity is permitted to be more patient, as exemplified in the example involving China and a Japanese code clerk .

In 2005, China entrapped a Japanese consulate employee in Shanghai using his sexual relationship with a Chinese woman as the leverage point to have him compromise the cryptographic codes of the Japanese mission. The Japanese code clerk wrote a long explanation of how his compromise came about and then killed himself.

Or the 2013 instance of Benjamin Bishop, a 60-year-old former Army lieutenant colonel, working as a U.S. defense contractor passed classified to a 27-year-old Chinese woman resident in the U.S. who he met at a conference in his resident Hawaii. Whether it was a case of sexual entrapment or simply high-stakes espionage catfishing, the result was the same. The individual with access to secrets was compromised and secret information damaging to the United States was shared.

The FBI is right to recall these employees while the investigation is conducted. If they are found to have been involved with prostitutes, their postings abroad should be terminated.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of