Given my experience as a former Secret Service agent, understandably, I’ve been asked by many on this page for my opinion on the recent security failures at the White House.
First, let me state that my efforts to explain the situation here are in no way an excuse or an apology for the unacceptable failure to get the job done. One point of pride my fellow agents and I always maintained was a “no excuses” atmosphere and, although I have since moved on from the Secret Service, I maintain relationships with many of the proud men and women who work there and I assure you, they are deeply disturbed by these failures.
With that context in the background, here’s what I feel are the systemic problems at the core of the recent failures. For decades, the Secret Service has taken an unwelcome, and inappropriate, subordinate role in the decision making process surrounding the movements of the president.
The importance of superficial DC “optics” has become a DC obsession and, sadly, if preserving “optics” at the expense of security is necessary, then it is a sacrifice that too many of the president’s “yes-men” are willing to make. When you combine this with a very small number of self-absorbed and vindictive high-ranking Secret Service managers who care more about their next job and their “contacts” rather than the hard-working agents out there in the world’s hotspots, actually doing the work, then the recipe for failure is there.
Again, I’m not providing tactical cover for anyone here. The men and women I know at the Secret Service are a proud group and are enraged by these failures, but do you really believe this happened in a bubble? Unless we correctly diagnose the problem, we will see a reemergence of the disorder.
Finally, it’s easy to criticize without proposing solutions (an all too common approach in DC), and I refuse to replicate that strategy. Here’s an unfiltered approach to fixing these problems.
The jurisdictional mess around the White House has to be cleaned up. Between the Secret Service, the US Park Police, DC Metro PD, the National Park Service, and others such as the White House staff and the White House Historical Association, too many cooks have their hands in the security-soup. Also, the Secret Service role in the decision-making chain at the White House has to be at least co-equal with the White House staff. Any manager within the Secret Service who insists on kneeling at the feet of an 18-year-old White House staff member, while throwing his agents under the bus, in order to maintain his “network”, needs to move on ASAP. This is too important of a mission for sycophants.
In conclusion, this was a devastating failure, but a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. The many successes of the Secret Service, many of which I was proud to be a part of, are all lost with these recent failures. As the IRA said to British security forces after the failed assassination attempt of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “We only only have to be lucky once, you have to be lucky everyday.” We cannot allow anyone to ever get “lucky” again.