The Cable

Secret Service Problems Date Back Decades

Two Secret Service agents ran a car into a White House barricade after a night of drinking in March. The incident reveals decades-old problems within the agency.

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President Barack Obama ignored recommendations to bring an outsider to reform the Secret Service when he appointed Joseph P. Clancy to lead the agency after serving as the former head of the president’s security detail. Now, another embarrassing incident that reveals decades-long problems at the Secret Service has lawmakers questioning whether Clancy is the right man to fix it.

In the latest black eye, two senior agents — including Mark Connolly, the No. 2 agent on Obama’s security detail and George Ogilvie, a senior supervisor in the Washington field office — drove into a temporary a White House barricade during a March 4 investigation of a suspicious package nearby. The incident was first reported by the Washington Post.

This follows two security breaches that compromised the perimeter of the White House and the president’s personal security in September 2014, as well as a prostitution scandal in 2012.

These kind of problems aren’t new. A 2002 story in U.S. News & World Report documented “alcohol abuse and misuse of government property to criminal offenses and allegations of extramarital relationships by Secret Service personnel with White House employees.”

The White House is still backing Clancy, who has put the pair into “non-supervisory, non-operational” jobs. The agency chief also referred the matter to the Homeland Security Department inspector general’s office, which is investigating. But the top Republican and Democrat on the House committee that oversees the Secret Service aren’t satisfied and suggested institutional rot.

“This incident also raises important questions about what additional steps should be taken to reform the agency, and whether the problems at [the Secret Service] run deeper than the recently-replaced top tier of management,” Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote in a March 12 letter to Obama. They also demanded a briefing on the incident no later than March 15.

Critics in Congress have been riding the Secret Service for a series of dangerous and embarrassing scandals. In September 2014, a man jumped the White House fence and made it into the president’s home. A day earlier, Obama rode in an elevator with an armed security contractor. These breaches prompted the resignation of Julia Pierson, the agency’s director. Four of the agency’s senior executives have been demoted this year.

A subsequent Homeland Security review released in December 2014 found the Secret Service is “stretched to and, in many cases, beyond its limits,” and recommended hiring an outsider to run it.

In the run-up to the 2012 6th Summit of the Americas, Secret Service agents brought prostitutes into their Cartagena hotel. That happened before Obama arrived in Colombia, but the fallout continued: The agent investigating the incident, David Nieland, later quit when he got caught up in a separate prostitution sting in Florida.

Perhaps the most serious modern security lapse by the agency came in 1981, when agents allowed an unscreened crowd to approach President Ronald Reagan. The Gipper was shot in the chest, and three others also were hit by John Hinckley Jr. More than 30 years later, the 2014 death of White House Press Secretary James Brady was ruled a homicide because of the injuries he sustained from the shooting.

The agency subsequently admitted it was responsible for a “colossal mistake.”

Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan

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