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Report: SEC staffers watched porn as economy crashed

SEC employees spent hours looking at porn sites on their work computers, according to an internal report.
SEC employees spent hours looking at porn sites on their work computers, according to an internal report.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • SEC investigation: Dozens of employees, contractors surfed porn sites on work computers
  • Staffers violated government-wide ethics rules, report finds
  • Report: Incidents occurred while country was teetering on verge of financial collapse
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(CNN) -- As the country was sinking into its worst financial crisis in more than 70 years, Security and Exchange Commission employees and contractors cruised porn sites and viewed sexually explicit pictures using government computers, according to an agency report obtained by CNN.

"During the past five years, the SEC OIG (Office of Inspector General) substantiated that 33 SEC employees and or contractors violated Commission rules and policies, as well as the government-wide Standards of Ethical Conduct, by viewing pornographic, sexually explicit or sexually suggestive images using government computer resources and official time," said a summary of the investigation by the inspector general's office.

More than half of the workers made between $99,000 and $223,000. All the cases took place over the past five years.

"It is nothing short of disturbing that high-ranking officials within the SEC were spending more time looking at pornography than taking action to help stave off the events that brought our nation's economy to the brink of collapse," said Rep. Darrell Issa. The Republican is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"This stunning report should make everyone question the wisdom of moving forward with plans to give regulators like the SEC even more widespread authority," he said. "Inexplicably, rather than exercise its existing regulatory enforcement authority, SEC officials were preoccupied with other distractions."

Video: SEC staffers caught surfing porn

SEC spokesman John Nester said the employees involved have been disciplined or are being disciplined. Some have been suspended or dismissed, he said, adding that the SEC has further increased penalties for misusing government resources in recent months.

"We will not tolerate the transgressions of the very few who bring discredit to their thousands of hardworking colleagues," he said.

The investigation came to light on the same day President Obama gave a speech in lower Manhattan, calling for reform in the finance industry.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate is working on a financial reform bill that would set up regulatory oversight of the financial industry's practices with the goal of preventing another Wall Street meltdown like the one in 2008 that launched the U.S. recession.

The bill includes an "early warning" system intended to spot signs of crisis, as well as a $50 billion liquidation fund created with money from banks and other finance industry corporations to ensure an orderly transition in closing down failing entities. It was recently approved by the Senate's Banking and Agricultural committees. The House passed its version of the bill in December.

The inspector general's report includes specific examples of misuse by employees.

A regional office staff accountant tried to access pornographic websites nearly 1,800 times, using her SEC laptop during a two-week period. She also had about 600 pornographic images saved on her laptop hard drive.

Separately, a senior attorney at SEC headquarters admitted to downloading pornography up to eight hours a day, according to the investigation.

"In fact, this attorney downloaded so much pornography to his government computer that he exhausted the available space on the computer hard drive and downloaded pornography to CDs or DVDs that he accumulated in boxes in his office," the inspector general's report said.

 
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