The U.S. Secret Service has once again garnered unwanted attention and scrutiny after two security breaches took place at the White House in Washington D.C. several days ago. On Friday, Sept. 19, a knife-wielding man scaled the fence surrounding the White House and subsequently managed to enter the North Portico doors before he was apprehended. It was later made known in a CNN report that the man, Omar Gonzalez, actually managed to penetrate the numerous layers of security and make it into the East Room before he was finally tackled there and apprehended by several Secret Service agents. That report also stated President Barack Obama and his family departed the residence just minutes earlier.
The next day, another man attempted to enter the White House grounds through several different checkpoints before he was eventually detained. These security breaches ended up not being that serious. However, they are latest in a string of unfortunate missteps and black eyes for the agency in recent years.
In 2012, a number of Secret Service agents were caught fornicating with prostitutes while they were traveling with the President in Cartagena, Columbia. In November 2013, a Secret Service agent forgot a bullet in a woman’s D.C. hotel room. In March, members of the elite U.S. Secret Service Counter Assault Team, also known as CAT, were involved in a controversial car accident in Miami while another was found drunk and passed out outside his hotel room in Amsterdam while traveling with the President, according to BBC News.
After these incidents and embarrassments took place, Julia Pierson, a 30 year veteran of the service, took over as director of the Secret Service. Pierson was appointed by Obama in an attempt to change the agency’s culture and strengthen its credibility. Pierson appeared in front of a congressional committee on Sept. 30 to try to explain the serious security breach at the White House and other Secret Service related mishaps.
According to an ABC News report, when asked how someone could ever breach one of the most secure buildings in the world, Pierson responded by saying, “It will never happen again.”
To put it lightly, Pierson struggled and stumbled through the hearing and her answers were far satisfactory to many of the members of Congress in the hearing. Just hours after it concluded, CNN and various news outlets began reporting that earlier in September, when the President was in an elevator while visiting the Centers For Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., a contracted security guard was in the same elevator as President Obama and he had a loaded weapon on him.
The Secret Service did not have knowledge of this weapon until days later when they interviewed the man because he attempted to take a picture of the President in the elevator with his phone. This latest development proved to be too much for Julia Pierson and on Oct. 1 she resigned. Many are asking why is the bad publicity continuing for the Secret Service?
These incidents are “a symptom of the fact that Secret Service management condones cutting corners,” Ronald Kessler, author of In the President’s Secret Service, told the Washington Post.
Kessler went on to say that this casual attitude has led some agents to ask, “Why should we obey the rules?”
In full disclosure, my late father was a U.S. Secret Service agent for nearly 25 years. Because of this, I have had the unique ability to see how the agency operates behind closed doors. My father dedicated his life to this elite agency and to protecting three presidents, their families and other dignitaries. The same is true for nearly all the other agents that serve or have served in the U.S. Secret Service.
The life of a Secret Service agent is demanding to say the least. Agents are always under an enormous amount of stress, and divorce rates are high. They spend long days away from home, and they are subject to an inflexible assignment system that does not take into consideration the personal needs of an agent. They are asked to make split section decisions and here’s the thing, they never can be wrong. If the Secret Service gets it wrong, then the consequences can be monumental.
Like any job or group in society, there will be irrational actors that decide to break rules and go against accepted norms which then reflects poorly on his or her organization. I have personally seen the dedication the majority of men and women in the Secret Service have for their job. It is a job that one must truly dedicate his or her entire life to. There is a saying in the Secret Service my father always used to say: “You are always on duty.”
I would argue that the strains put on agents due to all the stress and responsibilities they have cause many of these issues and so called controversies that we have seen in recent years. Many of these problems can be attributed to bad management and related policies while some agents simply fear reporting problems or security threats in fear of being punished by supervisors. Also, the Secret Service has many duties as an agency.
They not only do protection for the first family and other dignitaries but they also participate in various forms of criminal investigation, especially counterfeit related crimes, and this can lead to a strain on resources. Agents should participate in more training and I would also add that the Secret Service has become too independent of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, the service should come back under the control of the Department of Treasury, as they had been before September 11, 2001 in order to better manage the agency.
As for stopping people from trying to jump the White House fence and infiltrate the premises with bad intentions, I have a simple answer. The fence needs to be made higher and impossible to climb over because it is out-dated. I’d also like to add that the Secret Service deserves to be given more resources, more funds and new equipment from Congress and the Department of Homeland Security in order to ensure the agency is at the top of its game. Many weapons, equipment, and not to mention policies, of the Secret Service are outdated and need to be updated for the 21st century.
The job of a Secret Service agent has been glamorized by Hollywood in recent years, but this is far from the truth. Agents must be able to decipher threats immediately. Trust me, they recognize that their decisions can change the course of history. Their service goes unnoticed by the majority of Americans and many do not realize how critical the Secret Service is to the U.S. Government and to the country as a whole. Despite these recent controversies, the Secret Service is still the best at what they do. I have seen first hand how extremely difficult their job is. Every single Secret Service agent wakes up every day, ready and willing to give up his or her life in order to protect the President, his family, the White House and anyone else they are assigned to protect.