May 23, 2016 ยท 4 minutes

Uber founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp have long enjoyed the protection of former Federal agents.

In 2014, Kalanick, Camp and head of business Emil Michael were able to secure a restraining order against Robert Scott Dervaes, an alleged stalker who had made repeated visits to Uber’s headquarters, where he had made unspecified threats of harm. Those threats included an explicit death threat against Kalanick.

The paperwork for that restraining order includes a  sworn statement by Kalanick and Camp’s private security officer, Jon Archer, who identifies himself as a former Secret Service agent.

Now it seems Uber has decided to extend that elite level of protection to its own passengers. Last week the company announced that former Secret Service director Mark Sullivan had joined its safety advisory board.

Or, as Venturebeat saw fit to put it:

Uber has lured former U.S. Secret Service director Mark Sullivan onto its safety advisory board, a group established by the etaxi giant six months ago and designed to bring together “expertise and experience” from across the safety spectrum.

Lured. Perhaps with cheese, or a donut, or whatever bait one uses to catch policemen.

On the face of it, the hiring is an uncontroversial one. Impressive even. Uber has long had a serious problem with safety and security -- whether than be drivers threatening passengers, executives (including, it should be noted, Mr Michael) threatening journalists, or the most horrific example: The so-called Uber shooter, Jason Dalton.

Mr Sullivan’s appointment should bring a level of professionalism and credibility to the company’s promises to become safer and more buttoned-up ahead of its IPO.

I say should.

In fact, of all the former heads of the Secret Service that Uber could have hired, Sullivan is easily the most controversial. Sullivan headed the agency during its biggest modern scandal, where eleven agents were found to have partied with prostitutes during a presidential visit to Cartagena, Colombia. It was later suggested that Sullivan had been less than candid during an investigation over the scandal. Less than a year later, Sullivan resigned from the service.

Remarkably, it was only after Sullivan had resigned that a second scandal came to light: One in which he was even more directly implicated.

In 2014, the Washington Post reported that -- back in 2011 -- several Secret Service agents had been ordered to abandon their White House posts and head to the southern Maryland town of La Plata. Their mission: To spy on the neighbor of Sullivan’s assistant.

The new assignment, known internally as Operation Moonlight, diverted agents to a rural area outside the southern Maryland town of La Plata, nearly an hour’s drive from Washington. Agents were told that then-Director Mark Sullivan was concerned that his assistant was being harassed by her neighbor, the three people said.

Two agents were sent twice a day, in the morning and the evening, to monitor the home of the assistant, Lisa Chopey. The trips began June 30, 2011, and extended through the summer before tapering off in August, according to people familiar with internal shift records.

“Operation Moonlight.” Kudos.

The neighbor in question, Michael Mulligan, denied harassing Chopey. According to the Post:

The presence of imposing-looking unmarked vehicles, including a black SUV or an American-made sedan, came as a shock to Mulligan and his then-girlfriend, Brenda Allen. They said they did not know who owned the cars that parked behind the tree line near a backyard shed.

“There was all these cars down there for months,” Mulligan said. “They parked everywhere. It actually scared us. I wasn’t sure if it was police or what.”

Mulligan and Allen said they approached one of the cars one day to ask the occupants why they were parked in front of the house. But they said the car sped off.

The couple said they barely went outside their house when the cars were there. Eventually, the mysterious surveillance and the tensions with the Chopey family led them to move, they said.

A prostitution scandal and a flagrant abuse of government resources to spy on, and harass, private citizens. This -- this -- is the guy Uber chooses to reassure passengers that the company is serious about tackling unsafe rides and putting an end to harassment and spying campaigns directed at critics?

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re likely remembering the story of Chris Curtis, the former police officer hired by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to be in charge of improving security in Downtown Vegas. As I wrote back in 2013, before Curtis became responsible for ensuring female Zappos workers weren’t harassed by Vegas drunks, he wrote a book entitled “MACK Tactics: The Science of Seduction Meets the Art of Hostage Negotiation.” teaching men how to “get past no” with women by copying the tactics employed by SWAT officers.

If I were a cynic -- and, God knows Uber makes cynics of us all -- I’d wonder if the recruitment of people like Sullivan and Curtis wasn’t so much a misstep as a deliberate strategy.

Is there a management consultant somewhere advising senior executives that the best way to weed out creeps is to hire a former law enforcement officer who has been embroiled in a sex or stalking scandal of his own? Poachers turned gatekeepers, and all that?


If so, Uber just gave us a textbook example.