Secret Service Blows Another Security Assignment
Policy + Politics

Secret Service Blows Another Security Assignment

REUTERS/Larry Downing

Memo to House Speaker John Boehner: If you’re looking for another target for a special House investigation, why not check out the Secret Service?

Congressional overseers might inquire as to why the elite and once impeccable law enforcement agency, which is responsible for guarding the lives of the President, Vice President and other top officials has devolved into an inept, poorly managed and sometimes clownish operation.

Related: Secret Service Scandal: It Gets Worse

First it was reported last year that in April 2012 a team of a dozen Secret Service agents and U.S. military members hired prostitutes and brought them back to their hotel rooms in Colombia just ahead of President Obama’s trip to the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena. The drunken debauchery left the agents vulnerable to blackmail and could have led to indiscrete conversations with Colombian hookers about presidential security matters.

Then in March, three Secret Service agents responsible for protecting Obama in Amsterdam   were sent home and put on administrative leave after going out for a night of drinking. One of the agents found by hotel staff was drunk and passed out in a hotel hallway.

Last Tuesday, an apparently confused motorist joined the president’s daughters’ motorcade and drove onto the White House grounds before a barrier could be raised to block him from gaining entry. Fortunately for everyone, it was nothing more than an innocent mistake.  The Secret Service later identified the 55-year-old man as Mathew Evan Goldstein, who held a pass for the U.S. Treasury building, which is located next to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. 

Had the driver been armed and determined to cause harm, the outcome could have been much different.

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Finally, over the weekend, The Washington Post reported that top Secret Service officials ordered members of a special unit responsible for patrolling the White House perimeter to abandon their posts over at least two months in 2011 to protect an assistant to then Director Mark Sullivan.  That  dubious  new assignment – known internally as Operation Moonlight – diverted agents from protecting the White House  to a rural area outside the southern Maryland town of La Plata, nearly an hour’s drive from Washington.

Sullivan’s assistant at the time, Lisa Chopey, had complained to Secret Service higher-ups about being harassed by one of her neighbors. Two agents were sent twice a day, in the morning and the evening, to monitor Chopey’s home, instead of manning their positions on the Ellipse, the public park directly south of the executive mansion, Washington Post reporter Carol D. Leonnig reported.

Sullivan, who left the Secret Service last year -- ten months after the Colombian prostitution scandal – told The Post that he didn’t authorize the diversion of agents but instead learned about it after it had begun. Instead of canceling the operation and reprimanding officials for risking White House security, Sullivan allowed it to continue for a while. “The U.S. Secret Service always has taken seriously threats made against employees and responds as appropriate,” Sullivan said in a statement.

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Why Chopey didn’t take her complaint about being harassed to local police authorities instead of turning it into a federal case is far from clear. And why didn’t Sullivan and other high ranking officials perceive the diversion of agents away from guarding the perimeter of the White House as putting the president and others in increased danger is even more inexplicable.

This is no minor matter. Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, has been the target of several assassination attempts and alleged plots since he first became a presidential candidate in 2007. Secret Service protection for Obama began after the senator received a death threat in 2007, while he was still serving as the junior senator of Illinois and running for president. This marked the first time a candidate received such protection before being nominated.

A troubling reminder of the potential threat to the president occurred in November 2011, when a man who said Obama “needed to be stopped” fired a semiautomatic assault rifle from his car on Constitution Avenue, just a few hundred yards south of the White House. The shots struck the exterior wall and window of the second floor of the family residence on the Truman Balcony, where Obama has been known to go.

Republicans last week created a special select committee to investigate for the umpteenth time the 2012 terrorists attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Angry Republicans also voted last week to hold former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt for refusing to testify before an investigative committee about her involvement in the agency’s targeting of the tax exemptions of conservative and Tea Party groups from 2010 to May 2013.

So far we haven’t seen much outrage or calls from the Republican controlled House or the Democrat controlled Senate for a full-blown congressional investigation into the mushrooming scandals within the Secret Service. On a national security level alone, the apparent long-term change in the agency’s culture that has fostered or condoned reckless behavior by agents and dubious management decision-making by top managers should be a blazing red flag for lawmakers.

One exception is Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who is retiring this year. “This is just one more example of a leadership failure at the Secret Service,” Rogers said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “When you have someone removed from a post whose primary responsibility is to protect the president and the White House and its occupants, that is very, very concerning.”

Rogers said that one of his concerns is that the current director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, was the chief of staff during the time of the diversion of agents. “So they’re going to have some explaining to do,” he said.

A Secret Service official said that Pierson was unaware of the misguided Operation Moonlight. Over the weekend, Pierson asked the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to investigate allegations that top officials ordered agents responsible for patrolling the White House to intervene in a personal dispute.

"Director Pierson has contacted Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Roth in regard to the allegations of improper use of Secret Service resources during July 2011," the Secret Service said in a statement. "The Director and DHS Inspector General are committed to completing a full investigation into these allegations."

Pierson pledged to "ensure the Secret Service responds to any findings from this investigation and implements any recommendations or corrective actions identified" by the inspector general's report, the agency said.

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