It’s been a rough couple of months for the Secret Service.
The elite security agency that protects America’s top elected leaders has been under intense scrutiny for a handful of recent scandals and breaches. Last month, for example, a 42-year-old Iraq War veteran with a knife in his pocket was able to leap over the White House fence, elude security and make it as far as the East Room.
Now a scathing report released this week by a federal auditor puts the Secret Service back under the spotlight. The report said that on at least one occasion, the agency “improperly” diverted the Secret Service “Prowler” team away from its post at the White House to protect an employee in her Maryland home some 50 miles away from D.C.
The auditors said President Obama was at home in the White House on two of the five days that the team of agents was protecting a house in suburban Maryland rather than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
John Roth, the Inspector General, dubbed the Secret Service’s actions a “serious lapse in judgment.” Auditors concluded that there was no legal or procedural justification for the agents to be used as personal security guards for an agency employee.
“These agents who were there to protect the president and the White House were improperly diverted for an impermissible purpose,” Roth said in the report. “The Secret Service’s mission is to protect the president of the United States and not to involve itself in an employee’s purely private dispute best handled by the local police.”
The report comes a month after Congress grilled the Secret Service director after the spate of breaches. In one incident, the Secret Service needed several days to figure out a man had fired at least seven bullets into the side of the White House in 2011. Separately, the agency has been plagued with scandal after agents allegedly hired prostitutes during a presidential visit to Colombia.
The issues have raised concerns over whether the agency is actually prepared to protect the White House.
“The pattern of lax security and following basic protocols indicate a culture at the Secret Service that needs to change,” Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) said during the congressional hearing in September. “This president has far too much to worry about. He should not have to also be concerned with his personal safety and security and that of his family.”
Just days after the IG report was released – forcing attention back on the agency – came reports that, for a seventh time this year, a man jumped over the White House fence. This time the fence jumper was quickly apprehended by two dogs from the agency’s K9 unit.
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