The Secret Service began struggling to carry out its most basic duties after Congress and the George W. Bush administration expanded the elite law enforcement agency’s mission in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.According to government documents and interviews with dozens of current and former officials, the recent string of security lapses at the White House resulted from a combination of tight budgets, bureaucratic battles and rapidly growing demands on the agency that have persisted through the Bush and Obama administrations in the 13 years since the attacks. At the same time, the Secret Service was hit by a wave of early retirements that eliminated a generation of experienced staff members and left the agency in a weakened state just as its duties were growing.The agency assumed new responsibilities monitoring crowds at an increasing number of major sporting events and other large gatherings seen as potential targets for terrorists. A new anti-terrorism law gave the agency a leading role in tracking cyberthreats against U.S. financial systems. And Bush expanded the circle of people granted round-the-clock protection to include the president’s and vice president’s extended family and some White House aides — an expansion that has been largely maintained under President Obama.Where the Secret Service had been a gem of the Treasury Department for more than a century, its post-9/11 transfer to the sprawling new Department of Homeland Security suddenly forced it to compete for money and attention with bigger and higher-profile agencies focused on immigration and airport security.The changes set in motion during that critical period after 2001 led to a slow, steady slide in quality, leaving an agency that, according to a DHS report released on Dec. 18, is “stretched to and, in many cases, beyond its limits.”
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Secret Service struggled with expanded duties, more complex security threats and largely flat budgets followed by cuts.
“We are not the Super Bowl team we once were,” Dan Emmett, a former Secret Service supervisor, said in a recent interview with The Washington Post.When the attacks came in 2001, the Secret Service was seen as a model organization, revered for its aura of invincibility. Its stoic agents with their earpieces and dark sunglasses were immortalized in Hollywood movies, while the agency boasted a zero-error rate after the lessons learned from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the shooting of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. In addition to its well-known duties protecting the country’s leaders, the agency was also carrying out a longtime dual mission of combating counterfeiters.The day before the attacks, Secret Service details were safeguarding 18 people, including the president, the vice president and their immediate families, as well as former presidents and their spouses. Presidents have the power to expand the number of people under Secret Service protection, as President Bill Clinton temporarily did in the late 1990s amid growing concerns about al-Qaeda.Immediately after the attacks, temporary details were mobilized for Bush’s extended family, including his grown siblings. Later, with the country at war in Afghanistan, the agency provided details for Vice President Dick Cheney’s grandchildren in addition to those for his adult daughters, Liz and Mary.With that, the standard was set. By late 2003, Secret Service details were assigned to 29 people. Currently, the agency protects 27 people, including Vice President Biden’s five grandchildren, ranging from middle-school to college age, and senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.The details create an added strain, as the service must field a team of anywhere from two to six agents to protect a person, usually with two to three rotating shifts per day.The job of protecting the president was also growing more difficult in the post-9/11 world. The agency had to prepare for a rapidly expanding list of potential attacks to ward off — including improvised explosives, shrapnel truck bombs, and biological and chemical assaults.
But resources remained largely flat, forcing agents to work longer hours and spend extended stretches on the road. For years, hard work helped keep the agency’s turmoil from showing.Inside DHS, the 6,200-member Secret Service was dwarfed by the new Transportation Security Administration and the rapidly growing U.S. Customs and Border Protection, each with more than 50,000 employees.DHS officials were focused on addressing high-profile security concerns, and hundreds of millions of dollars were directed to anti-terrorism programs. But the Secret Service’s mission did not engender the same sense of urgency, according to people familiar with internal deliberations.Tom Ridge, named by Bush to head DHS after its formation, said the terrorist attacks understandably reshaped priorities, although he said the Secret Service received the funding it needed.“The entire focus of the nation shifted after 9/11, and all federal agencies had to adjust to the new realities,” Ridge said recently through a spokesman. “That said, the Secret Service, because of its protective mission and direct ties to the White House, never suffered from a lack of resources to carry out their critical responsibilities during my time at DHS.”Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff at the time, said he intervened several times to fight off proposed cuts to the Secret Service’s budget. But Congress and DHS officials did not always view some of the agency’s initiatives as a top priority, he said.“They’d say, ‘We need X millions of dollars to address this threat,’ ” Card recalled, “Somebody asks, ‘What’s the chance of that happening?’ The answer is maybe 2 percent. To the Secret Service agent, it doesn’t matter. . . . If it happens, it’s 100 percent.”Chris Cummiskey, a former Obama DHS official who retired this fall, said he saw the Secret Service struggle — and suffer financially — from “organizational turmoil” stemming from its presence in DHS.Cummiskey said the agency pushed for money in some areas — such as enhancing protective countermeasures at the White House and updating communications systems — but got far less than it sought.“There was a competition for dollars in an increasingly finite budget environment,” he said. “All of a sudden, there was high premium placed on justification.”Don Mihalek, a New York field agent who is the national representative for Secret Service agents in their law enforcement association, said the agency’s mission and “operational tempo” increased “exponentially” after the 2001 attacks.“But the budget has never been commensurate with that,” he said.As it happened, just as the Secret Service was facing those new bureaucratic challenges, it was in an especially weakened position — reeling from the early retirement of 925 senior agents from 1993 to 2002.
Under a 1950s-era program, Congress had given most agents and officers the same generous benefits as D.C. police received and allowed them to retire after 20 years of service. In 1983, Congress replaced that program with a less generous federal retirement plan. Most of the last agents covered under the old program reached their 20-year mark in the years leading to 9/11.A report by the federal Office of Personnel Management in 2004 noted the potential ill effects of the loss of so many seasoned agents, saying that the agency “was losing these highly experienced law enforcement officers at a point in their careers when they are still capable of effectively serving.”One of the earliest signs that the Secret Service was suffering from the strain came in May 2005, when the agency and local officers were unable to control a huge crowd entering a plaza in Tblisi, Georgia, to hear Bush deliver a pro-democracy speech. Thousands got past magnetometers used to screen for weapons.Minutes after Bush began speaking, a protester threw a live grenade that landed 100 feet from the president. A defect kept the grenade from exploding, but the FBI concluded that shrapnel could have hit and injured Bush if it had detonated.The election of Barack Obama in 2008 brought new challenges, as the agency saw an escalation of threats against the country’s first black president.After a pair of aspiring reality-TV stars managed to talk their way into a White House state dinner in 2009, then-Secret Service Director Mark J. Sullivan initiated a broad review of vulnerabilities in the security net around the White House. Sullivan had previously complained to senior DHS leaders that most of his proposed technology upgrades and countermeasures were cut, former department officials said. The review team made about 130 recommendations, which were compiled in a classified report.The review prompted DHS to spend about $80 million over the next several years to, among other things, improve screening for chemical and biological threats and upgrade communications at the White House complex. But some of the vulnerabilities cited in the report, concerning both the security of the White House and the safety of the president during travel, have not been fully addressed, according to people familiar with the report. In one case, the report highlighted the need to create a new security perimeter for the White House to address the insufficiency of the fence to stop intruders.
“We kept fighting, and we increased funding with major investments in cybersecurity, technology and White House countermeasures,” Sullivan told The Post in an interview this month. “Although we didn’t always get what we wanted, every single time we had knowledge of how to better protect our protectees, we fought hard for funding.”As budget battles began to dominate Washington after the tea party wave of 2010 and lawmakers and the Obama administration pursued ways to slash the deficit, the Secret Service suffered cuts along with other federal agencies. The service was then forced to deal with problems that became public embarrassments. It failed to properly investigate a 2011 shooting targeting the White House, and agents were recalled from a 2012 summit that Obama attended in Colombia after being caught hiring prostitutes.The Secret Service’s budget was cut — with the onset of sequestration — from $1.6 billion in 2012 to $1.5 billion in 2013. Relying on attrition, the agency cut its total staff by nearly 300, to 6,480, its records show.The impact was deeply felt in the Uniformed Division, the arm of the Secret Service that protects the White House complex. Its officers were so frequently called in to work on their days off that most training was canceled to keep posts covered. The agency estimated that it needed 1,420 officers in the division to properly do its job, but it had 100 fewer than that.In 2012 and 2013, agency officials canceled all but three of the summer academy classes that train new officer candidates, in part due to budget constraints. So when a steady stream of weary officers resigned during that period, the agency ran out of academy graduates to fill the spots.To get the posts covered, the agency flew higher-paid agents in from field offices around the country to do temporary rotations. It had to pay for the agents’ travel, lodging, food and other expenses.The toll on the Uniformed Division was cited as a major problem in the DHS report released this month. The panel that conducted the review called for adding 200 officers. It also assailed the Secret Service’s leadership for not knowing the actual cost for properly protecting the president and for instead making ballpark guesses on how much Congress would approve.
“[N]o one has really looked at how much the mission, done right, actually costs,” the panel said of the service’s budgeting process.Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in an interview that he was disturbed by the service’s shoestring approach.“You feel the commander in chief deserves the best security protocols known to man. There’s no skimping, there’s no talk about people working a lot of overtime, all this foolishness,” he said.While not filling officer positions last year, the agency spent about $1 million on a project sought by then-Director Julia Pierson: upgrading a “Director’s Crisis Center” adjoining her executive suite. The new center is a smaller, near-replica of the Joint Operations Center on another floor of the Secret Service’s downtown Washington headquarters.Pierson defended the project at a House hearing in September on the day before she resigned, saying managers “need to have instant information for us to be able to make informed decisions.”Meanwhile, morale among agents and officers has been sinking amid a growing view that the agency was being led by an insular clique resistant to oversight and eager to promote yes men rather than independent thinkers.A 2013 survey of Secret Service employees found what it called a “noteworthy” distrust of senior managers among the rank and file. Nearly 1 in 4 — 587 out of 2,575 — said they believed that top managers were not held responsible for their own misconduct. And 1 in 5 said they felt management tolerated misconduct, according to the electronic survey, conducted by the DHS’s inspector general’s office.In addition, employees noted 318 incidents in which they witnessed colleagues engaged in misconduct that could threaten security, such as drunkenness or solicitation of prostitutes. In 80 percent of the incidents, they did not report the behavior — the most prevalent reason cited was they did not believe that management supported employees reporting such behavior.
Joseph P. Clancy, a former leader of Obama’s protective detail who assumed the role of acting Secret Service director when Pierson resigned, told lawmakers last month that a desire to fix the widespread distrust of management was “an integral part of why I agreed to return.”Members of Congress are also distressed about the ill will that many agents and officers feel toward their bosses.Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in an interview that a “culture here of mediocrity, complacency and inefficiency” has resulted largely from the fear of agents to speak up. “They fear nothing will happen. They fear they’ll be retaliated against,” he said.Secret Service officials say the agency, which protected more than 6,000 venues in fiscal 2014, is learning from its mistakes. “There is no question that today’s security environment presents distinct challenges,” agency spokesman Brian Leary said. “Our mission is one that requires constant vigilance and commitment from each of our employees, at all times.”Still, to many who have long studied the Secret Service, the agency’s internal problems set the stage for a string of miscues that gained widespread public attention this year.An internal review of the Sept. 19 incident in which a knife-wielding man was able to leap the White House fence and race through the building found that several officers on duty had never been trained in the types of force to use to stop an intruder who had entered the front door. Many officers had been on the job less than a year and were uncertain about their specific responsibilities in such a case. Some were confused about how the White House radio communications system worked in a crisis.Cummiskey, the former DHS official, said it’s easy to connect the budget dots to this and other recent security lapses. “They’ve got fewer people and more demands, so it makes it harder for them to cover all the ground,” he said.Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said the Secret Service has rarely had to answer hard questions from Congress or oversight groups and has repeatedly cited a need for secrecy to do its job.
“I don’t think the Secret Service has been held accountable for the last 15 years,” Chaffetz said.Thompson said the agency’s recent missteps may have finally triggered a meaningful reassessment of whether the Secret Service can keep the president safe.“Finally, people are acknowledging that obviously there has to be something wrong inside this agency,” he said. “You can’t gloss over what has occurred.”
Alice Crites contributed to this report.
Carol Leonnig covers federal agencies with a focus on government accountability.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The acting director of the Secret Service
warned lawmakers Wednesday of "potentially dire consequences" from
lowered morale and operational security at the agency. He vowed to do
Joseph Clancy offered the sobering assessment in
testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, making his first appearance
on Capitol Hill since his appointment last month to lead the embattled
agency. The Secret Service has suffered a string of embarrassments,
including a fence jumper who made it into the White House, which led to
the resignation of its previous director.
Clancy acknowledged that
the agency has fallen short of its goal of perfection. He said that
being in the spotlight has had detrimental effects on employee morale
and operational security, "both with potentially dire consequences."
also offered a mea culpa over the Sept. 19 fence-jumping incident. An
internal review last week detailed a string of failures that allowed a
Texas Army veteran, Omar Gonzalez, to make it way all the way into the
"I found the
findings devastating. What hits me hardest is the range of shortcomings
that ultimately allowed Omar Gonzalez to enter the White House
practically unencumbered," Clancy said.
I firmly believe the Secret Service is better than this incident I
openly acknowledge that a failure of this magnitude, especially in light
of other recent incidents, requires immediate action and longer term
reform," he said. Clancy said he's conducting a top-to-bottom assessment
and is establishing new procedures, improving communications and
considering other changes, including strengthening the White House
House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, right, greets acting Secret Service Di …
An outside review of the agency also is underway.
Lawmakers told him there was no margin for error,.
Secret Service cannot make mistakes," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas.
"You're protecting the president and the president's family, there can't
came under attack from lawmakers over wrong information the agency put
out about the fence-jumping incident early on, including initial claims
that Gonzalez was unarmed and was tackled immediately inside the White
House. In fact he had a knife and made it far into the executive
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, complained that no one had been disciplined over the misinformation.
"The Secret Service misled us on purpose," he said. "Was there any consequence to any personnel?"
Clancy acknowledged no punishments had been meted out but argued that the errors were unintentional.
"We know it's critical to give accurate information, and that's what our goal is, but we failed on that day," Clancy said.
just broke of the Secret Service's third failed assassination of
President Obama--according to reports, agents allowed a guy with a gun
to get in an elevator with the president earlier this month and had no
idea he was armed...
has never been a strength of the Obama administration, so Julia
Pierson’s comparatively speedy exit from her post as director of the
Secret Service is surprising. But not to the liberal blogosphere, which
has been quick to...
man who falsely claimed to be a member of Congress was able to get into
a secure backstage area where President Barack Obama was last month,
Bloomberg News reported. The incident occurred on Sept. 27, when the...
What can you expect from a low I.Q. politically correct Progressive Affirmative Action Queen, whose big accomplishment before joining the federal bureaucracy was as a parking lot attendant at Orlando's Disney World?
who had mapped out the security plan said they were taken aback when
Pierson said: 'We need to be more like Disney World. We need to be more
friendly, inviting...'" That just boggles the mind. More inviting? The
Secret Service is supposed to intimidate and scare the hell out of
people. You see the Secret Service, you're supposed to turn around and
go the other way. You're not supposed to feel invited.
SS AGENTS WITH GUNS POINTED AT TEA PARTY PATRIOTS IN 2009
Ronbo is greatly enjoying the decline
and fall of the U.S. Secret Service for personal and professional
reasons. These SS people (and I use the term loosely) are the scum of the
earth: rude, obnoxious, stupid and cowards who played fast and loose
with the law. In 1994 I warned the public of the danger represented by
this rogue agency of the federal government that thought itself above
the law. Today we see the truth of my words - the SS has crashed and
burned in a very dramatic and public way that cannot be ignored.
(AP) -- Facing blistering criticism from Congress, Secret Service
Director Julia Pierson acknowledged on Tuesday the agency fell short in
executing its plan to protect the White House when a man with a knife
entered the mansion and ran through half the ground floor before being
There is not a doubt in my formerly
military mind that the current SS Director is an Affirmative Action
Queen who was appointed by Obama for her support for the Administration,
Leftist politics and gender.
Julia Pierson is a native of Orlando, Florida. While she attended high school, she worked at Walt Disney World as a parking lot attendant, watercraft attendant, and in costume in Disney parades.
She was an Explorer in the Boy Scouts of America,
in a post specializing in law enforcement chartered to the Orlando
Police Department. She was the 1978 National Law Enforcement Exploring
Youth Representative, leading the Law Enforcement Exploring division, and was selected as the National Law Enforcement Exploring chair.
internal Secret Service report revealed more than “1,000 security
breaches and vulnerabilities,” according to a House investigator who
said that a “politically correct” culture is endangering President
are new details that will come out that — you really have to question
if security is their number one objective,” Representative Jason Chaffetz
(R., Utah), who sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform
Committee that is holding a Tuesday hearing on the Secret Service,
tells National Review Online. “They want to be politically correct.”
backs that up by reference to the Secret Service’s statement on the
most recent security breach, when a man jumped the White House fence and
entered the building before being stopped.
last night the officers showed tremendous restraint and discipline in
dealing with this subject, the location of Gonzalez’s arrest is not
acceptable,” the Secret Service press release said. (That statement was issued before whistleblowers revealed that the fence-jumper made it all the way to the East Room of the White House, on the second floor.)
“When is that the goal and objective of the Secret Service? ‘Restraint?’ Because he had no apparent weapons?” Chaffetz
points out. “In this day and age of ISIS and suicide bombers, we don’t
know what he has underneath of his clothing. He could have a dirty bomb
or improvised explosive device. You just don’t know. It’s totally unfair
for an agent to have to make a split second decision on whether or not
to use lethal force. If you can’t get a dog or a person in between the
person rushing the White House and the White House itself, you may have
to use a more lethal weapon.”
emphasizes that “there are a lot of very good men and women” at the
Secret Service, but he said that the leadership of the Secret Service
has been politicized since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
9/11 happened and they reconfigure the Secret Service — took it out of
Treasury; put it in Homeland Security — and made the director a
Senate-confirmed position, it seems to me it became much more of a
political appointee as opposed to a director who is a career servant
person,” the congressman says.
The result has been a major breakdown in the morale and effectiveness of the people tasked with protecting the First Family.
want to hear out the director, I want to give her a chance to try to
explain herself, but I’m going into the hearing with the strong
impression that there is a total failure in leadership and questionable
protocol,” Chaffetz says.
concern springs in part from an internal report that surveyed 6,500
Secret Service agents, asking if they had observed any vulnerabilities
or security breaches.
they had all these different boxes you could check. More than 1,000 of
these boxes were checked,” Chaffetz says. “Now, that doesn’t mean a
thousand of the 6,500 agents saw something, but there were enough agents
to highlight more than 1,000 security vulnerabilities and breaches that
really, really scare me.”
On the heels of the Washington Post’s revelation that the armed man who
scaled the White House fence earlier this month not only entered the
executive mansion but bolted past a guard and into the East Room, the Secret Service has come under fire once again.
According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, President Obama
was “obviously concerned” about the September 19 perimeter breach – and
in a rare moment of accord, the Republican-controlled House share his
Today, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
will grill Secret Service Director Julia Pierson about the agency’s
repeated lapses. Here's seven questions lawmakers are likely to ask:
1. Why the lack of transparency?
Yesterday’s revelations don’t exactly square with the agency’s original
explanation, which seemed to imply that the 42-year-old fence jumper,
Omar Gonzalez, had been apprehended just inside the entrance.
The day after the incident, the Secret Service released a statement
saying simply, “Gonzalez failed to comply with responding Secret Service
Uniformed Division Officers’ verbal commands, and was physically
apprehended after entering the White House North Portico doors.”
2. Didn’t Gonzalez’s erratic history raise a red flag?
Secret Service investigators interviewed Gonzalez, an Iraq vet, at least
twice before he stormed into the White House on September 19.
Two months before the incident, authorities in Virginia discovered a
sawed-off shotgun and a map marking the White House stashed in
Gonzalez’s car. They confiscated the weapons but concluded he wasn’t a
threat to the president. And about a month later, officers spotted
Gonzales wandering along the south fence with a hatchet in his
waistband. They determined they didn’t have enough evidence to hold him.
Gonzalez’s motives aren’t clear: Though he had armed himself with 3 ½
inch knife, he claims his only intent was to warn the president that the
“atmosphere was collapsing.” Still, the fact that a man repeatedly
flagged by Secret Service managed to make it so far into what was once
considered most secure residence in the nation is troubling.
3. Why didn’t agents fire?
The Secret Service Uniformed Division supposedly maintains “five rings”
of protection to create a secure perimeter around the executive mansion.
But it was a counterassault agent patrolling the interior – an agent
who was never supposed to come face-to-face with a would-be fence jumper
– who eventually subdued Gonzalez.
The first apparent failure came at the North Gate, where a plainclothes
surveillance team posted outside the gate failed to notice Gonzalez
clambering over the eight-foot fence.
Then, in quick succession, a guard booth officer, SWAT team, and K-9 unit all failed to respond.
According to the Associated Press,
agents decided to hold their fire when they (incorrectly) assessed that
Gonzalez wasn’t carrying weapons, nor was he wearing clothing that
could easily conceal explosives.
They allowed Gonzales to dart into the White House, which had been vacated by the first family just minutes before.
4. Why didn’t they release the dogs?
The K-9 unit, a team of Belgian Malinois dogs trained to attack intruders, was also not deployed.
Sources say officers were afraid the dogs would attack the officers pursuing Gonzalez instead of the intruder himself.
5. Why wasn’t the door secured?
Gonzales didn’t have to force the front door or pick the lock. It wasn't locked.
Secret Service agents
generally wait for notice of an intruder to lock the front door – but
the officer guarding the entrance on September 19 wasn’t aware of a
fence jumper until he was almost upon her.
Gonzales dashed past her and ran past the entrance to the first family’s
private quarters and into the ceremonial East Room on the first floor.
6. Why is the Secret Service taking direction from hospitality staff?
According to the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig, someone had apparently
muted a “crash box” alarm designed to alert officers of intruders – at
the behest of the usher’s office.
Apparently, the alarm frequently went off without provocation,
disturbing the staff. Even so, some lawmakers are chiding the agency for
disabling the crash box “to appease superficial concerns of White House
7. How did the President actually react?
In public, President Obama appeared calm, saying that the Secret Service
“does a great job." But previous security breaches have reportedly left
the president and first lady fuming.
the U.S. Secret Service want Obama and his family dead? Yes, this incident could
be the result of incompetence, or perhaps someone in a superior
position inside the SS taking advantage of that incompetence to achieve a
desired result. If murder of the President is on a high ranking SS officer's
agenda, then would not a Keystone cops atmosphere be an excellent