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Pruitt's problematic security had a playbook

Make protection feel like a perk. Cultivate a healthy paranoia. Eliminate the usual annoyances of travel.The F...

Posted: May 5, 2018 3:53 PM
Updated: May 5, 2018 3:53 PM

Make protection feel like a perk. Cultivate a healthy paranoia. Eliminate the usual annoyances of travel.

The Facebook page for Sequoia Security Group, the firm owned by Scott Pruitt's recently departed chief of security, posted a playbook of tips for providing corporate security on Facebook in 2015 -- and the suggestions read like a user guide for the same measures that have landed Pruitt in the midst of nearly a dozen federal probes.

Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta has been under fire for months, as people take a closer look at the nearly $2 million that's been spent on Pruitt's unprecedented 24-7 security team consisting of 20 agents.

Perrotta retired unexpectedly from his post Tuesday and gave an interview to the House Oversight Committee investigating Pruitt.

Perrotta, the EPA and Sequoia Security Group all did not respond to CNN requests for comment.

The Facebook post may explain the thinking behind some of these controversial decisions.

Allegations are that Pruitt exploited his position to get personal perks, such as flying first class and multiple overseas trips on the taxpayer's dime, according to interviews with CNN and details made public by members of Congress.

Some of these are stunningly close to what his security guru advocated in his "tips" post for his security firm Sequoia Security Group Inc.

"My gut reaction is, (this is) really embarrassing," said Jonathan Wackrow, a CNN law enforcement analyst who served on President Barack Obama's Secret Service detail and now works as a private security consultant. "Those were not even commercial comments, they're almost amateurish. He just did everything wrong with Pruitt."

The Facebook group's post appears to have been written by Perrotta. The post that follows this one refers to "My book" and links to Perrotta's book. The book publisher's website links back to the Facebook page.

Perrotta, a former military-turned-Secret Service agent who investigated New York City mobsters and computer hackers, began working security for federal agencies in 2004, according to his biography on his Sequoia Security Group website.

Pruitt made Perrotta the leader of the EPA security team after getting pushback from the prior chief when he refused to drive Pruitt with lights and sirens when he was late to meetings, or stuck in traffic enroute to the airport, according to sources with knowledge who talked to CNN.

It was Perrotta's willingness to offer lights and sirens that curried favor with Pruitt, the sources said.

Here's a look at the parallels:

Tip: Make protection feel like a perk

Using lights and sirens for non-urgent scenarios falls neatly into the category of one of the tips Perrotta posted to Facebook: "Make protection feel like a perk," he wrote. "Good organizational abilities and excellent research skills will prevent the lion's share of problems. These things also carry an ancillary benefit: helping an executive eliminate many of the usual annoyances of travel."

Pruitt parallel: Pruitt reportedly used his lights and sirens to get to dinner, at times. It's just one of several allegations against him that can be categorized into the same central theme: The EPA administrator was acting like a big shot, according to people who worked for him.

One of Pruitt's major criticisms is that he flew only in first class seats during his first 18 months in office, racking up a bill of more than $200,000 for taxpayers.

The EPA said it was a security precaution that made it necessary to keep him close to the front of the plane.

Even Republicans have criticized the practice.

"I would be shocked if that many people knew who Scott Pruitt was," Republican House Oversight Chair Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, told Fox News in April. "So, the notion that I have to fly first class because I don't want people to be mean to me, you need to go into another line of work if you don't want people to be mean to you, like maybe a monk where you don't come in contact with anyone."

Tip: Cultivating a "healthy paranoia"

Perrotta quotes Robert Siciliano, a personal security expert who has advised British Petroleum and Best Western, in his Facebook posting, suggesting "cultivating a 'healthy paranoia' in your executive populace. 'They should be aware of the risks they face and always informed of the worst-case scenarios,' " the post says.

Pruitt parallel: The EPA has said that extra security was required because Pruitt was receiving threats. But a whistleblower provided documents to Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Tom Carper showing that the US Secret Service could identify no "reports of behaviors of interest" against Pruitt and cites "an internal EPA Intelligence Office report that disputes the administrator's claims that the nature of the threats against him justify his expenditures."

Only one threat is under investigation by the Justice Department and it involves both Pruitt and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.

The Carper-Whitehouse letter cites a memo from William Stull, special agent on Pruitt's private security detail, to Perrotta, summarizing threats. It included attempts to disrupt a Pruitt speech, a social media post expressing "displeasure," a postcard saying "CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!!! We are watching you," and an email stating: "Hi, I am considering dumping the old paint I just scraped off of my home outside your office door on Tuesday."

"Notably, none of the incidents listed in this report concerned air travel," the senators wrote.

Tip: Build a big Rolodex

Perrotta's Facebook post also points out that working with hotel personnel and fellow security professionals can help.

"Good information 'in tell' is the main ingredient to a successful EP program. It pays to work closely with executive assistants, hotel personnel and event organizers," Perrotta wrote.

Pruitt parallel: Perrotta dipped into his personal Rolodex during one controversial overseas Pruitt trip, hiring local Italian security guards who were his friends, racking up a tab of more than $30,000 for a visit to the G7 summit.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox responded by saying that the security detail "followed the same procedures" that were used for previous administrations over the past 14 years.

And another scandal dogging Pruitt involves hand-picking expensive hotels that exceeded government per diems.

In planning a trip to Australia - one that didn't end up happening - Pruitt declined to use a State Department-approved hotel that already had security in place, preferring more expensive hotels which meant higher security costs, according to a former staffer who talked to the House Oversight Democrats.

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