SEC staffers watched porn as economy crashed

WASHINGTON — Senior staffers at the Securities and Exchange Commission spent hours surfing pornographic websites on government-issued computers while they were being paid to police the financial system, an agency watchdog says.

The SEC's inspector general conducted 33 probes of employees looking at explicit images in the past five years, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

The memo says 31 of those probes occurred in the 2 1/2 years since the financial system teetered and nearly crashed.

It was written by SEC Inspector General David Kotz in response to a request from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

The memo was first reported Thursday evening by ABC News. It summarizes findings of past inspector general probes and reports some shocking findings:

- A senior attorney at the SEC's Washington headquarters spent up to eight hours a day looking at and downloading pornography. When he ran out of hard drive space, he burned the files to CDs or DVDs, which he kept in boxes around his office.

- An accountant was blocked more than 16,000 times in a month from visiting websites classified as "Sex" or "Pornography." Yet he still managed to amass a collection of "sexually suggestive and inappropriate images" on his hard drive.

- Seventeen of the employees were "at a senior level," earning salaries of up to $222,418.

- The number of cases jumped from two in 2007 to 16 in 2008. The cracks in the financial system emerged in mid-2007 and spread into full-blown panic by the fall of 2008.

An SEC spokesman declined to comment Thursday night.

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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