Bashing the Secret Service

Secret Service agents on Obama detail sent home from Netherlands after night of drinking
The headline in the Washington print edition was:

Secret Service agents put on leave

By Carol D. Leonnig, David Nakamura and Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post, 2014-03-26
(It appeared on page 1, above the fold, in the far-left column.)

Three Secret Service agents responsible for protecting President Obama in Amsterdam this week were sent home and put on administrative leave Sunday after going out for a night of drinking, according to three people familiar with the incident. One of the agents was found drunk and passed out in a hotel hallway, the people said.

The hotel staff alerted the U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands after finding the unconscious agent Sunday morning, a day before Obama arrived in the country, according to two of the people. The embassy then alerted Secret Service managers on the presidential trip, which included the agency’s director, Julia Pierson.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed Tuesday evening that the agency “did send three employees home for disciplinary reasons” and that they were put on administrative leave pending an investigation. Donovan declined to comment further.

The alleged incident took place in Noordwijk at the Huis Ter Duin Hotel, where the president stayed Monday night, a White House official said Wednesday morning. This is a resort town in the Netherlands about 15 minutes outside The Hague.

According to two people familiar with the Amsterdam incident, the three are members of the Secret Service’s Counter Assault Team, known in the agency as CAT.

The alleged behavior would violate Secret Service rules ­adopted in the wake of a damaging scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, in April 2012, when a dozen agents and officers had been drinking heavily and had brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms before the president’s arrival for an economic summit.

Under the requirements, anyone on an official trip is forbidden to drink alcohol in the 10 hours leading up to an assignment. As members of the advance team for a presidential trip, the CAT members would have been called to duty sometime Sunday for a classified briefing ahead of the president’s arrival on Monday. Drinking late into the night Saturday evening and Sunday morning would have violated that rule.


[Thanks for the specificity.
They would have been, perhaps, under the influence of alcohol during the briefing,
not when they were needed to be available for the President's protection.

The question I have regarding this story is:
Is this a new problem,
or just the latest output from the Washington Post scandal machine?]

Secret Service incident in Netherlands was on heels of car wreck during Obama’s Miami trip
The main headline and subheadline in the Washington print edition were:

Agents were told to stay out of trouble

Secret Service incident in Europe was on heels of car wreck in Miami

By Carol D. Leonnig, David Nakamura and Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post, 2014-03-27
(Again, on page 1, above the fold, in the far-left column.)


That night on the town has created another highly public embarrassment for the elite Secret Service,
which is still attempting to recover from
a tawdry drinking-and-prostitution scandal two years ago
during a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia.

[News reports are that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
also was drinking and partying at the Club Havana in Cartagena.
Were the Secret Service agents more drunk than Ms. Clinton?
Were they under the influence of alcohol during their work shift?
(I do not know the answers, just asking.)]


Those with knowledge of the internal investigation said the incident infuriated managers because it came less than three weeks after the traffic accident in Miami, which led to the two officers involved being sent home. Local police gave one of the officers a field sobriety test on suspicion of drunk driving but released him with a citation for the accident and no additional charges, those familiar with the incident said.

The two officers, who serve in the uniformed division, notified their superiors of the accident. They were ordered to return to Washington under Pierson’s “no tolerance” policy, an official familiar with the matter said. The two men continue to work for the agency.

[That is all I can find about the Miami car incident in the body of the article.
You can read the official report on the car incident here (4 page PDF).]


Alcohol isn’t the Secret Service’s problem.
Lousy leadership is.

By Dan Emmett
Washington Post Outlook (its Sunday essay section), 2014-03-31

Dan Emmett, a former Marine Corps captain, retired Secret Service agent and former CIA intelligence officer, is the author of “Within Arm’s Length: A Secret Service Agent’s Definitive Inside Account of Protecting the President,” forthcoming in June.

These are disturbing days for the agency charged with protecting the president of the United States.
From prostitutes in Colombia to drunkenness in Amsterdam,
it is no wonder that so many members of Congress — as well as former agents —
have lost patience with a Secret Service
that can’t seem to stay out of the news
with embarrassing and high-profile cases of misconduct.

[And just who makes them "high-profile"?
The media and those who want to publicize the incidents.
The incidents themselves hardly seem, to me,
to be worth the attention they are getting.
Why blame the Secret Service for the inevitable minor escapades of a small number of its members,
which have not had any evident effect on its ability to perform its mission.
Isn't that what is important,
not the sex lives of its agents or some drinking too much, if that doesn't affect their work performance?
The media in general, and the Washington Post in particular,
can always find some trivial incident to run on the front page
and label a "scandal", whether it deserves that label or not.
I think it is way past time to stop these knee-jerk reactions
to whatever the Washington Post and its allies label as a "scandal".

As to the former agents,
are they asserting that in years past,
agents never behaved in the way the Post is now front-paging?
My suspicion (totally without proof, just a hunch)
is that some Secret Service agents, like many males in years past,
patronized prostitutes on occasion,
without it adversely affecting their ability to perform their duties.
Also, that some (perhaps just a few, but some) got legally drunk as a form of relaxation
on occasion, when it did not affect their job performance.
Continuing my vein of speculation,
my guess is that some agents in fact cut it too close,
and were inebriated when their time of duty came,
but their supervisors noticed their problem
and used backups to replace them on duty.
(There are backups, aren't there?
Remember, an agent can become medically sick without warning.
Perhaps an appendectomy, perhaps some sort of accident.
Surely the SS has backups to cover for such cases.
At least I would assume that they do.)
Again, this is speculation.
I have absolutely zero inside knowledge how the SS performs its duties.
Quite literally, all I know about the SS is what I read in the newspapers.
I filter that information through my general experience
concerning the work ethic shown in years past
by men who had pride in their work
and a sense of duty to perform it at a high level of performance.]

I was a Secret Service agent for 21 years,
spent two tours of duty on the Presidential Protective Division
and four years on the Counter Assault Team (CAT),
and was part of trips for three presidents.
I retired 10 years ago and have no dog in today’s agency fights.
I do not believe that alcohol abuse is a cultural problem within the Secret Service.
(In fact, many agents do not drink at all,
and those who do tend to consume in moderation.)

The problem in the agency is not alcohol or debauchery, but weak leadership.
There are too many incompetent managers
who want the title, pay and perks of management
while performing no duties of leadership.
The problem is not bad Secret Service agents
but bad leaders of Secret Service agents.


Yet, history shows that even the best units perform poorly with poor leaders, and the Secret Service is a prime example. The most disturbing common thread among the recent episodes of misconduct is that supervisors or team leaders have been involved. While it is unacceptable for any agent to commit infractions such as those in Amsterdam and Colombia, it is utterly inexcusable for those in charge to be involved. If managers show continued lapses in judgment, how and why would anyone expect the rank and file to behave better?

[He wants to bash a manager who uses a prostitute?
What kind of example did President Kennedy, to cite an extreme example,
How many of the people whom the SS protects show "lapses in judgment"
when it comes to alcohol and sex?
Is there to be one standard for the SS,
and a looser standard for those it protects?
The answer to that must be of course, "Yes"
when issues of ability to perform their duty are at stake.
But that should be the issue,
does it really adversely affect their job performance?]

The Secret Service may not admit it, but its promotion system is primarily designed to move the best-liked people, not necessarily the best-qualified, into managerial positions. Much like in a college fraternity, a small group of senior agents votes on who will be promoted. These decisions are based as much on office politics, popularity and political correctness as the abilities of those being considered for upward mobility. While this practice is widespread in many professions, it is unacceptable in an agency whose primary function is to keep the president of the United States alive and safe. Competence should be the overriding concern in all government agencies, but especially so in an organization whose agents stand next to the president and other top officials with loaded firearms.

The agency doesn’t prioritize competence among its managers, yet it somehow stands baffled about why it cannot control the behavior of its agents, forcing the director to return to Capitol Hill again and again to apologize for their conduct. The apologies may temporarily appease critics, but they do nothing to address the catastrophic failure of leadership within the organization.

When I became a Secret Service agent in 1983, we were generally well led. Most of our top and mid-level supervisors were armed forces veterans; they managed and led by the ethos of military leadership, which dictates accomplishing the mission while taking care of those entrusted to them. They expected much from their subordinates but knew that they must set the example we would follow.

The Secret Service of today is awash in managers, not leaders. Many supervisors have little tangible or leadership experience, yet they are designated as managers on the basis of their titles and long lists of schools attended. Alas, leadership cannot be taught in a classroom alone. In the military, people must first pass Officer Candidate School before assuming leadership roles. In the federal government, more often than not, people are promoted first and then trained to be leaders — the concept is entirely backward.


Whenever an elite organization expands too rapidly, care must be taken not to compromise standards. Unfortunately, this was not always done during the large expansion of the Secret Service that followed Sept. 11.

The tragedy of this horrid and ineffective system is that many highly qualified agents who would be superb leaders are passed over for promotion; they are not in “the club.” The result is evident in today’s embarrassing headlines.

Can this train wreck be put back on track? Can the Secret Service regain its respect? I believe it can. But congressional overseers need to agree that there is a massive leadership problem in the agency and start a general purge of some top-level managers through forced retirement. Then the Secret Service should begin a leadership school for entry-level managers, preferably conducted by the military. While major corporations and the federal government have become huge proponents of every type of management and business school imaginable, and have spent millions of dollars sending their neophyte managers to them, the military best understands leadership in its most basic form — and that is what the Secret Service is missing.

Finally, the next director should come from outside the agency, rather than rising up through the rank and file. When drastic changes are needed, it is difficult for someone who is friends with almost everyone in headquarters to make objective decisions. In this case, the agency needs someone with no allegiances to top-level managers.

The best leaders willingly take responsibility for the actions of their people. When I was a 23-year-old second lieutenant with the 1st Marine Division, my first company commander informed me that he would hold me responsible for everything my men did or failed to do. His hard lesson: It is the commander who bears the ultimate responsibility for subordinates’ actions. This lesson seems to be unique to the military, though it should apply non-uniformed government workers, too. If high-ranking officials were terminated or disciplined for the infractions of their wayward subordinates, rather than the wrongdoers themselves receiving all the punishment, perhaps there would be fewer incidents such as the ones haunting the Secret Service of late.

Secret Service removing supervisor, tightening rules after drinking incidents
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post, Wednesday 2014-04-09
[This was the lead story that day,
occupying two columns on the right hand side of the paper,
above the fold.]

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson
has demoted the supervisor of one of the agency’s largest divisions
and reassigned nearly two dozen members of its staff,
part of a broader cleanup effort
in the wake of embarrassing drinking incidents on two recent presidential trips,
according to three people familiar with the moves.

The agency also has ordered stricter rules on drinking
for employees of the division, known as special operations,
prohibiting them from drinking alcohol within 12 hours of reporting for duty
and 24 hours before the president’s arrival at any trip location.

[Interesting how the SS has done its job for years without those new rules.]

Five employees of the special operations division
were implicated in misconduct ahead of trips by President Obama last month
to the Netherlands and South Florida.
The division is central to the agency’s efforts
to ensure the safety of the president and his family,
and it includes agents and officers trained for unique protective roles
such as counter-assault, emergency response and rooftop sniper teams.

A Secret Service spokesman confirmed
the reassignment of multiple employees in the division
but declined to provide details or elaborate on why they were moved.
The spokesman also declined to discuss the removal of Dan Donahue
as the special agent in charge of the division.

“Personnel are being reassigned as a result of staffing rotations
and as a result of assessments made after two recent incidents of misconduct,”
agency spokesman Ed Donovan said.
“Director Pierson maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding incidents of misconduct
and continues to evaluate the best human-capital practices and policies for the workforce.”

[Was "zero-tolerance" the policy in the past?
What harmful effects will this new zero-tolerance policy have on the personnel?]

Donahue ordered the tougher drinking rules
after news coverage of alcohol-fueled incidents involving his employees
in the Florida Keys and the Netherlands last month,
according to an official familiar with the change.
Starting Tuesday, Mike Rolin,
the former deputy supervisor overseeing the Secret Service’s Washington field office,
took over the special operations division,
the official and another person briefed on the move said.

Both men declined requests for comment or interviews through the Secret Service.

The beleaguered agency has been struggling for two years to recover from
a high-profile drinking-and-prostitution scandal
ahead of Obama’s visit to Cartagena, Colombia,
for a regional summit in April 2012.
The latest incidents have brought fresh embarrassment to the service
and harsh new questions for Pierson on Capitol Hill.

[Isn't the highlighted lead part of the above paragraph
quite overwritten?
"Beleaguered"? The only thing that seems to be beleaguering it is the media and Congress.
Its been accomplishing its mission.
"Recover from"?
One may need to recover from a wound or an illness,
but again,
the "high-profile drinking-and-prostitution" incident in Cartagena
has never been shown to have adversely affected its ability to carry out its mission.]

Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), the ranking Republican on
the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs investigative subcommittee,
said in an interview Tuesday that
he remains concerned about the Secret Service’s problems
and whether the new rules will end them.
Agency policy clearly does not allow agents to hire prostitutes and abuse alcohol, he said,
yet such incidents have happened multiple times.

[The original reporting on the Cartagena incident said,
as I recall,
that what happened there was not clearly forbidden by the SS rules in effect at that time.
Is Sen. Johnson asserting that the rules in place at that time were clear on this matter?]

“While these rules are a step in the right direction,
the real question is how often does this type of misconduct occur,
and who is held accountable when it is reported?” Johnson said.
“The examples we have from Cartagena, Miami and Amsterdam all involve
a third party recognizing and reporting misconduct by USSS employees —
not self-reporting within the agency.
An accurate assessment of how prevalent this conduct is within the USSS
is long overdue.”

Johnson said he hopes to work with Pierson
and the Department of Homeland Security’s new inspector general, John Roth,
on an assessment.

In the Netherlands, three Secret Service agents responsible for protecting Obama
on a trip to a nuclear summit there March 24
were sent home after going out for a night of drinking the Saturday before.
One agent had been found passed out in the hallway of his hotel Sunday morning,
where Obama was scheduled to arrive the next day.
All three were put on administrative leave
based on supervisors’ conclusion that they had violated agency-wide rules
that prohibited drinking within 10 hours of reporting for their shifts.

Pierson was about to celebrate her first year on the job as director
and learned of the incident while traveling with Obama and other administration officials on Air Force One en route to Amsterdam.
The alcohol policies in place at the time had been enacted in the wake of the Cartagena scandal.

Pierson had warned supervisors ahead of the overseas trip that
she was already unhappy about another incident of misconduct in South Florida in early March,
when two counter-sniper officers suspected of drinking had a car accident
just before the first family’s arrival in the area.

In Islamorada, Fla., the two officers were leaving a convenience store in their rented Dodge Caravan at 1:20 a.m. March 7
when the vehicle was hit by an oncoming tractor-trailer.
A Florida Highway Patrol trooper said in his report that
he smelled alcohol on the minivan driver’s breath
and gave the Secret Service officer a field sobriety test.
The trooper concluded that the driver was not impaired
and did not administer a blood-alcohol test,
but he gave him a ticket for causing the accident, the report shows.

Pierson met privately with members of Congress on April 1
and tried to assure them that she found the recent incidents
embarrassing and deeply concerning,
and she vowed to take immediate steps to fix the problem.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.),
chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee,
said he is confident that
Pierson is trying to root out the cause of recurring incidents.

“Unfortunately, troubling incidents
like those that occurred recently in the Netherlands and Miami
have raised questions regarding the culture of the Secret Service,” Carper said.
“While the agency has already enacted a number of reforms,
there is still some work to do.
I am confident that Director Pierson
will take whatever additional steps are necessary
to prevent similar incidents of misconduct.”

The special operations division is not the only part of the Secret Service
with a history of misconduct problems.
The presidential protective detail — the most elite agency team —
was stung by revelations this summer that
two of its supervisors had engaged in sexually charged e-mail communications
with a female subordinate.

The discovery came
after the more-senior supervisor left a government-issued bullet behind
in a female guest’s room at the Hay-Adams hotel.
He created a scene
when he insisted on being allowed to return to the woman’s room to retrieve the bullet
and she did not want to let him back in.

[Embarrassing this may be,
but it is not evident that it affected his ability to perform his mission.
Why did he make such an issue over retrieving the bullet?
Surely it was not over the cost of the bullet.
It is not evident to me that it was necessarily wrong on his part
to want to retrieve the bullet.
Perhaps this issue isn't really worth making much out of.]

New details in fence-jumping reveal failures in security rings around White House
By Carol D. Leonnig and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post, 2014-09-23

[The biggest issue I see raised here
is the need for a fence which cannot be jumped.
I really had no idea that the existing fence was so easily surmounted.
They need to fix that.
The threat that needs to be guarded against is not so much a lone intruder,
which here caused enough of a problem,
but a coordinated mass attack executed by well-trained suicide bombers.
Say, 50 jumping the fence simultaneously, heading for the White House,
with satchel charges capable of breaching the front door,
then entering and detonating explosives located on their body and in back packs.
Recall the carnage caused by a single suicide bomber at Camp Chapman.
This is a real problem, and one which, say, one or two Belgian Malinois
are not sufficient to stop.
They can be overwhelmed.
The White House needs an adequate perimeter security system BAD,
and it needs it ASAP.

For how easy it is to get over the White House fence,
see this YouTube video of a Code Pink fence jumper:]

Obama official defends Secret Service
Some visitors criticize additional barrier at White House
By Jaime Fuller and Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post, 2014-09-28

[The subtitle above was that in the print edition of 2014-09-29.]


“It’s intimidating,”
said Ryan Powers, 20, a George Mason University student from Madison, Va.
Powers said he would not object if the metal barriers were temporary
while the Secret Service took other, less intrusive measures,
but he said he was more uneasy about the idea that
the barriers could become permanent.

“I think it’s amazing how fast they responded,” Powers said.
“I think it does show that the U.S. does respond to domestic threats.”

Nancy Eade, 53, a receptionist who was visiting the nation’s capital from Green Bay, Wis.,
objected to the new barrier,
saying it was an “eyesore” that — literally and symbolically —
distances people from their leaders.

“I know it’s only two feet, but it’s two feet more,” Eade said,
adding that she viewed the Secret Service response as a “knee-jerk reaction.”

“This particular block has to be the most protected in the nation.
To give it a two-foot buffer, I don’t think it’s necessary,” she said.

[For my reaction, see my comments to the above article.]

A shattered sense of security in the Secret Service
By Editorial Board
Washington Post Editorial Board, 2014-09-30

AN INTRUDER makes his way deep inside the heavily guarded White House.
In an earlier incident,
shots from a high-powered rifle strike the president’s residence
but are overlooked until a cleaning lady discovers the bullets days later.
That such seemingly far-fetched scenarios weren’t lifted from a Hollywood script
raises unsettling questions about the protection of the president and his family.
These concerns urgently need to be addressed —
but in a way that
deals with real issues rather than
just creating unsightly new barriers,
further isolating 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
or pushing the public away.


In the aftermath of the fence-jumping incident,
three-foot-high barricades, posted with “Police Line Do Not Cross” signs,
have been erected to keep people away from the fence.
The Secret Service has floated the idea of
shutting Pennsylvania Avenue to pedestrian traffic
or setting up military-style checkpoints.
No checkpoints can compensate if the agency doesn’t properly do its job.
Conversely, a professional Secret Service should not have to
maroon the White House on a defended, deserted island inside the nation’s capital.

[Let me stress:
The real issue that needs to be addressed immediately is:
I.e., ensuring that no one gains access to the White House grounds
except through designated and controlled check points.
The possibility of jumping the fence MUST be stopped.
The current situation would be appropriate in
the "grand duchy" featured in the Peter Sellers movie
The Mouse That Roared
not the United States of America.
Even an overweight Code Pink person can get over the current fence.
I find that ridiculous.

The next step beyond
building a fence that cannot be jumped over is
building one that cannot be breached by explosives.
That may be too hard to accomplish,
but it seems a worthy goal.

Yes, the President should be accessible to the people.
But that access must be controlled,
and not capable of being breached.
And that manifestly requires improvements in the building's physical security.

It is outrageous that the Post does not see the need for improved physical security.
Could they be trying to make it easier for terrorists to strike America,
thus providing more justification for the wars in the Middle East
that their editorial board keeps pining for?]