The United States Secret Service is an agency in trouble.
- On September 16, 2014, while on a trip to Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Barack Obama was inside an elevator with a private security contractor who was armed with a pistol. The Secret Service did not know he was armed until his supervisor, who fired him on the spot, requested his weapon. A national database check revealed the contractor had a criminal record with three convictions for assault and battery.
- On September 27, 2014, an unidentified man posing as a member of Congress made his way into a secure area backstage at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation awards dinner in Washington, D.C. where Obama was attending.
Asked for Obama’s reaction to a series of Secret Service foulups, White House spokesman Frank Benenati gave this boilerplate reply: “The president has full confidence in the Secret Service and is grateful to the men and women who day in and day out protect himself, his family and the White House.”
But by October 1, then-Director Julia Pierson was forced out of the agency and replaced by an interim director: Joseph Clancy, formerly head of the presidential protection detail.
But the blunt truth is that many of the problems now plaguing the U.S. Secret Service were on full display as early as 2009. That was when well-known investigative reporter Ronald Kessler published his latest book, In the President’s Secret Service.
Kessler had previously pubilshed books outlining the inner workings of the White House, the CIA and the FBI. Kessler praised the courage and integrity of Secret Service agents as a whole.
But he warned that the agency was risking the safety of many of its protectees, including President Obama. He was particularly critical of SS management for such practices as:
- Shutting off weapon-scanning magnetometers at rallies for Presidential candidates–and even for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama.
- During a speech Bush gave at Tbilisi, Georgia in 2005, an assailant threw a live hand grenade–which failed to explode–at him.
- Despite 9/11, Secret Service agents are still being trained to expect an attempt by a lone gunman—rather than a professional squad of terrorist assassins.
- The Service’s Counter Assault Teams (CATs) have generally been cut back from five or six agents to two, rendering them useless if a real attack occurred.
- Salaries paid to SS agents have not kept pace with reality. Veteran SS men and women are now being offered up to four times their salary for moving to the private sector, and many are leavleaving the agency for that reason.
Secret Service agents protecting President Barack Obama
- While Congress has greatly expanded the duties of this agency, Secret Service management has not asked for equivalent increases in funding and agents.
- Many agents are leaving out of frustration that it takes “juice” or connections with top management to advance one’s career.
- SS agents are being trained with weapons that are outdated (such as the MP5, developed in the 1960s) compared to those used by other law enforcement agencies and the potential assassins they face (such as the M4–with greater range and armor-piercing capabilities).
- The Service refuses to ask for help from other agencies to meet its manpower needs. Thus, a visiting head of state at the U.N. General Assembly will usually be assigned only three agents as protection.
- The agency tells agents to grade themselves on their physical training test forms.
- Agents are supposed to be evaluated on their marksmanship skills every three months. But some agents have gone more than a year without being tested.
- Some agents are so overweight they can’t meet the rigorous demands of the job. As a result, they pose a danger to the people they’re supposed to be protecting.
- The Secret Service inflates its own arrest statistics by claiming credit for arrests made by local police.
- Congressional members who visit the agency’s James Rowley Training Center in Laurel, Maryland, are treated to rehearsed scenarios of how the agency would deal with attacks. If agents were allowed to perform these exercises without rehearsals, Congress members would see they can and do make mistakes like everyone else.
Kessler closes his book with the warning: “Without….changes, an assassination of Barack Obama or a future president is likely.
“If that happens, a new Warren Commission will be appointed to study the tragedy. It will find that the Secret Service was shockingly derelict in its duty to the American people and to its own elite corps of brave and dedicated agents.”
And the effects will be not only momentary but long-term. As Kessler writes: “By definition, an assassination threatens democracy.
“If Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated, Andrew Johnson, his successor, would not have been able to undermine Lincoln’s efforts to reunite the nation and give more rights to blacks during the Reconstruction period.
“If John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated, Lyndon Johnson likely never would have become President. If Robert F. Kennedy had not been killed and had won the presidency, Richard Nixon might never have been elected.”