The U.S. President is the most powerful person in the world. He (or potentially she) is therefore the biggest target in the world. For bad guys in a race to the bottom of morality (ISIS and its competitors around the world), there would be no greater coup than attacking the pinnacle of the global food chain. Even an attempted attack yields enormous utility to terrorists; perceived insecurity is as terrorizing as proven insecurity.
Given this extreme threat environment, the stated ambition of ISIS and other terrorist groups, the presence of anti-government extremists and lone wolves of all evil flavors within the country, Americans assume that the President has the most effective personal protection ever. Well, you know what they say about assumptions. With White House fence jumpers, armed ex-cons within spitting distance of the president, and bullets slamming into the People’s House, we all look like a bunch of jackasses.
Let’s state the obvious. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson is out. Three decades of Secret Service experience look great on paper, but if that service looked anything like the appalling security breaches over the last several years, that 30 years doesn’t mean anything. It just means she and her colleagues were lucky that we have not seen a direct attack on the Executive Office in several decades.
Despite the evident failure, President Obama seems loath to punish poor performance. See, for example, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki who were given the opportunity to resign. The President will likely give Pierson a graceful way to exit in the form of a resignation to “pursue other interests.” She doesn’t deserve that. She should be publicly fired with a swift kick to the rear as she is unceremoniously tossed to the proverbial curb. That may sound harsh given her career and accomplishments, but she put our President in danger, and that is unforgiveable. More than that, she seems wholly unwilling to acknowledge just how serious the recent security breaches are and how terribly her agency has failed.
For example, there have been a slew of attempts to deflect blame, including a press release (reviewed and approved by Pierson) praising agents for tremendous restraint as an armed, mentally ill man charged into what is supposed to be the most secure residence on the planet. As Rep. Jason Chaffetz said during Tuesday’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, “restraint is not what we’re looking for.” That hearing was particularly troubling as Pierson dodged blame in an unconvincing and frankly pathetic testimony.
In short, shame on you, Pierson. Be sure to let the door hit you on the way out.
But it doesn’t stop with Pierson. Her performance is par for the course in a deeply troubled agency culture. She didn’t begin this abysmal track record of unsecure “security;” she perpetuated it. In conversations with colleagues, I’ve heard it said that there is a new generation of agents in the Secret Service who just don’t get it. And former agents want to “rip out the throats” of those who failed to protect the President.
To be sure, there are good, dedicated, reliable agents in the Secret Service, evidenced by the fact that whistleblowers (plural) have bypassed the chain of command so as to see their concerns addressed. Those agents “get it.” The only thing that matters is the mission; excuses do not exist for the Secret Service.
But there are many other agents who do not get it. The agents who let the Salahi couple into the White House State Dinner in 2009. The agent (since fired) who left a bullet in the hotel room of some woman he met after a night of drinking. The agents who were more interested in hookers than mission in Cartagena, Columbia. The agents who let 7 bullets strike the upper floors of the President’s personal residence while doing nothing. The agents who let an armed ex-con into a metal box with Obama. The agents who were God knows where when Omar Gonzalez sprinted across the White House lawn and ended up in the East Room.
At the very least, there needs to be person-by-person review of current agents. They should submit resumes, references, training scores – in effect, they should reapply for their jobs, a similar house-cleaning tactic employed by Police Chief Bill Bratton when he took over the Los Angeles Police Department.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Reps Elijah Cummings and Darrell Issa sent a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for an outside review of the Secret Service. That is an excellent idea. Here’s another idea. Replace the damn fence around the White House.
Anyone who has been to Washington has seen the hordes of people crowding around the North Lawn to snap pictures of the Presidential Mansion. Sometimes, over-excited tourists climb up on the crossbars of that fence, and I’ve seen agents come out of the woodwork – dropping out of trees, popping out of gopher holes and speeding up on bikes. It’s almost comedic, if it weren’t so deadly serious. Why is that fence even climbable? With all the wonders of 21st century technology, we can end fence-jumping potential by raising the height a couple feet. The point is not that terrorists and other bad guys are planning a fence-jumping attack. Rather, if no one can jump, the agents can be repositioned to, I don’t know, protect the president, run better advance planning for executive events, lock the freaking front door.
If I sound livid it’s because I am. And I’m not alone. It’s well-past time for a change in the Secret Service. Who will lead it? Is there any leadership in Washington anymore? For the President’s sake, that of his family, and that of our national reputation and resilience, I hope there is at least one leader who will strip the Secret Service to its core and rebuild it into the kind of agency we all want and our Commander-in-Chief deserves.