Despite the recent approval and congratulatory statements made to the Secret Service regarding their good work during the visit of Pope Francis last month, the agency is once again under scrutiny, this time for trying to undermine its congressional critics.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has been an outspoken critic of the Secret Service within Congress, especially regarding the agency’s failure to stop White House fence-hoppers. Secret Service Assistant Director Edward Lowery sent an email to another assistant director, calling for the personal humiliation of Rep. Chaffetz by saying that “some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out.” Two days later, the Daily Beast had the dirt: Chaffetz had once applied for a position in the Secret Service and was rejected.
An investigation revealed that the personal identification information of the representative was accessed more than 60 times by 45 different agents. According to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general, the “vast majority of those who had accessed the information did so in violation of the Privacy Act.” Mr. Lowry’s actions have consequently led to the delay of three ambassadorships, until appropriate disciplinary action is taken, courtesy of Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
This recent episode comes after a litany of other failures, including:
- November 2009: A couple attended a state dinner at the White House and met the president without having been on the guest list.
- November 2011: A man with a semi-automatic rifle fired at the White House. Agents initially responded but were told to stand down. (Their supervisors believed that the sounds were from a vehicle’s backfire.) The shooter’s vehicle was found within 10 minutes, but an investigation was not initiated until bullet holes and broken glass were found days later.
- April 2012: Part of President Obama’s Secret Service advance team to Cartagena, Columbia, had sexual relations with prostitutes.
- March 2014: A heavy night of drinking the day before the president was scheduled to arrive left three Secret Service agents facing disciplinary action.
- September 2014: The Secret Service was unaware that the president was riding in the same elevator with an armed security contractor who had a criminal record. A fence-jumper also managed to storm the inner rooms of the White House before being subdued by an off-duty agent. Reportedly, the alarm system bothered White House staffers and had been turned off.
- October 2014: A 2012 prostitution scandal in Colombia was brought to light by new information indicating that White House aides knew of involvement but did not investigate.
All of this goes to show that the Secret Service has some major issues that need to be addressed in order to fix the overarching problems that the agency faces. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson called for a panel review of the Secret Service, which found three main areas causing trouble:
- Training and personnel. The panel found that on-the-job training has “fallen below acceptable levels” and that there are not enough agents and officers to meet mission and training needs.
- Technology, perimeter security, and operations. For example, the White House fence was not tall enough to keep out intruders, which has since been fixed.
- While resources would undoubtedly be helpful, leadership and accountability are the priority. The panel suggested that future directors be chosen from outside the political realm, so that an “honest top-to-bottom reassessment” of the service could be completed. This recommendation was ignored.
From the security breaches to the prostitution scandals to the political targeting, it is clear that something is very wrong at the Secret Service. U.S. officials and the American people alike have an expectation for the Secret Service that must be met with competence and professionalism. Congressional oversight and serious soul-searching by Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy are needed to rehabilitate the Secret Service.
Angelica Hickerson is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.