Two U. S. Presidents visited my school when I was a student. Gerald Ford (who was taller, fitter and far better looking in person) spoke in our law lounge and Ronald Reagan (in his first public appearance after being seriously wounded by John Hinckley, Jr.) spoke at our graduation. In both instances, the Secret Service presence was abiding and imposing before and during the visits. I could no more get past a Secret Service agent and to the President than I could sprout wings and fly around the room. Of course, I could obviously be “decked” with one punch, which was probably why I was allowed in the room. The Presidents were impressive but so was the Secret Service.
Apparently, either the Secret Service was not as potent as it seemed or the agency has dramatically changed. Two disturbing security breaches occurred in September 2014. A knife-wielding White House intruder jumped the fence, ran through the unguarded and unlocked front door, overpowered a Secret Service agent, ran past a stairway leading to the First Family’s living quarters, ran well into the White House and into the East Room, where he was finally tackled by an off-duty Secret Service agent who just happened to be in the White House. In addition, while in Atlanta, GA with the President, Secret Service agents violated their own protocols and allowed a security contractor with a gun and 3 convictions for assault and battery to ride on an elevator with the President. The Secret Service falsely claimed that the White House intruder was stopped at the front door and did not reveal the Atlanta breach until September 30th.
In the wake of the White House incident, the Secret Service Director, Julia Pierson, was taken to task by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Pierson stated that the breach was unacceptable and would never happen again. Unaware of the Atlanta breach, the Committee called for an independent review of the Secret Service. Hours later, the Atlanta breach came to light.
Under apparent pressure from the White House and others, Pierson resigned on October 1, 2014 and Joseph Clancy is Acting Director until the President can appoint Pierson’s successor. Pierson became the Secret Service Director on March 27, 2013 to improve the agency’s image after the 2013 “Summit of the Americas” prostitution scandal. That incident involved Secret Service agents who were in Columbia to protect the President and brought prostitutes to their hotel before the President’s arrival. Though placed as Director to improve the agency, Pierson performed poorly: she consistently called for a weaker security presence around the President and dignitaries; she wanted to assign only 30 agents to the White House perimeter, though an internal report called for 100; she was unable to overcome systemic problems outlined in that same internal report, including a staffing shortage and low morale; and, perhaps most oddly, she stated, “We need to be more like Disney World. We need to be more friendly, inviting.”
If the agency wishes attain the desired effectiveness and prestige, Pierson’s resignation was a step in the right direction. However, the agency still has significant problems that preceded Pierson’s leadership and would benefit from an independent review, recommendations and corrective steps.
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