Once upon a time the words “Secret Service” conjured up images of virile, responsible men, dressed in suits, packing pistols, and wearing ear pieces and sunglasses, and charged with the formidable task of protecting the President of the
When did that imagery begin to change? In 2009, a year after President Obama took office, when Secret Service agents ignored security protocol at the White House, and Tareq and Michaele Salahi crashed a private party. Actually, they did more than crash. They got close enough to the President to shake his hand. Good thing they hadn’t greased their palms with poison. Secret Service bungling was later discovered only because Michaele Salahi posted photos of herself taken at the event on her Facebook page. The Salahis were not the only gate crashers that night. Carlos Allen, a party promoter, also got past the government’s so-called “security.”
Then, in April of 2012, twelve Secret Service agents were sent to Cartegena,
to secure routes and sites before President Obama’s arrival for the sixth “ Summit of the Americas.” For the week prior to
the Summit, the
twelve agents mounted their own summits with local prostitutes.
It’s possible their dereliction of duty might also have gone unnoticed if one of these brawn but no brains agents hadn’t decided not to pay his lady love the $47 he owed her for the sleepover. The lady – smarter than the agent -- filed a report with the local police, and the police notified the U.S. Embassy. All of this transpired just twenty-four hours before the President arrived in Cartegena. These agents not only set themselves up for possible blackmail (all were married) but could have jeopardized the President’s safety. When news of the orgy reached Conference delegates, agenda topics -- trade, energy, and regional security -- took a back seat to joking and jiving about American’s fittest and finest.
What could these agents have been thinking, I asked myself – rousing and carousing while on assignment? In truth, they hadn’t been thinking at all. As my wise old Grandmother used to say: “When the prick is up, the brain is down.”
Following the Columbian fiasco, the President replaced the then-Director of the Secret Service with Julia Pierson, a thirty-year administrative veteran with no field experience. Her assignment was to clean up the Agency and “rehabilitate” its reputation. But in April of this year, three elite members of the Secret Service, sent to Amsterdam to set up security systems for protecting the president during an upcoming visit, drank heavily for a week and were still drinking the day before Obama’s arrival (Agency rules strictly forbid agents to drink alcohol in the hours preceding official assignments). One of the agents got so drink that he passed out in the hotel hallway. A hotel employee notified the U.S. Embassy, and the three agents were sent home.
Despite continued evidence of the Agency’s kindergarten behavior, Obama continued to applaud Ms. Pierson’s management, but that may soon be changing. On September 19, Omar Gonzales, a veteran of three tours of duty in Iraq and diagnosed with PTSD, scaled the fence on the North side of the White House, ran 70 yards across the lawn to the executive mansion, opened the unlocked doors, and entered. He knocked down a Secret Service agent and got as far as the East Room, which is close to the stairs leading upstairs to the Obama family’s residence, when he was finally tackled by an Agent and handcuffed. A folding knife was in his pocket, and in his car -- parked nearby -- were machetes, hatchets, and 800 rounds of ammunition.
That wasn’t the first time Secret Service agents had “interviewed” Mr. Gonzales. Two months earlier he was arrested in
for possession of a sawed-off shotgun and resisting arrest. Police found a cache of rifles and handguns in
his car, plus a map of the City of Washington,
a line drawn to the White House steps.
Yet Secret Service agents determined that Gonzales was not a threat, and
he was released.
A month later, in August, Gonzales was again stopped by a Secret Service Agent when he was seen near the White House south fence, a hatchet adorning his waistband. The mental giants at the Agency again concluded that Gonzales was “no threat.”
You have to wonder what the Agency considers a threat to national security if it’s not 800 rounds of ammunition, knives, sawed-off shotguns, machetes, hatchets, and a map marking the pathway to the front door of the White House. What kinds of tests – if any -- do future agents have to take before being admitted to the Secret Service? Probably something like: Can you find the one image from below that represents a clear and imminent danger?
You also have to wonder where our biggest and best were when Gonzales jumped that fence and entered the White House through unlocked doors. You might also wonder where the watch dogs were, and why the Secret Service, in all its infinite wisdom had muted the alarm system. Most of all, you have to wonder why Ms. Pierson, following this fiasco, commended the agents for showing “tremendous restraint.” So now all the geniuses in
Washington are deliberating: how can we better secure the White
House? Their answer: block off
additional streets so unwanted visitors have farther to travel to reach the
front door. Let’s think about that. If the agents can’t secure a “smaller” space,
why would they be more able to guard a larger area? Besides, the problem is not OUTSIDE the
fence. It comes from the INSIDE!
So what is the answer? Before finding the answer, one must first ask the right question: “Who’s in charge”?
I’ve noticed that in medical clinics supportive staffs generally reflect the attitudes of those at the top – the doctors. When doctors are professional, thorough, and polite to patients, so are supporting staffs. But when those at the top are arrogant, non-receptive, and rude, so goes the staff. I call it “Clinic Culture.” Clinic Cultures exists across all offices -- private and public. If there’s slop at the top, there’s slop at the bottom!
See where I’m going? If Secret Service agents are unprofessional and irresponsible, they are reflecting values learned -- either consciously or through osmosis – from their Director.
And if Ms. Pierson teaches a culture of laxity and carelessness, whose signals has she been following?
THE BOTTOM WHINE: Monkey see. Monkey do!
Whiningly yours, Carol
No whines, just laughs, as four friends of a "certain age" prove that with a mix of moxie and a weekly mahjongg game, coming of age can happen more than once. Available through Amazon in paperback and kindle editions: