Did the Secret Service scandal in Colombia leave the President less secure on his trip to the Summit of the Americas? The Secret Service says no, but reporter/author Ronald Kessler disputes that — and wonders why heads haven’t rolled yet at the agency, and not just for this incident. Kessler, who recently wrote a book on the Secret Service and its role in protecting the President, spoke with CBS News this morning to emphasize that this is not an unexpected and inexplicable aberration, but the result of bureaucratic complacency and poor morale at the Secret Service. Heads should have rolled in 2009, Kessler says, when the Salahis infamously crashed a state dinner at the White House:
Two of the Secret Service personnel sent home were supervisors, Plante said; the rest were part of a detail assigned to logistics. None of those relieved of duty was a member of the president’s protective detail.
On “CBS This Morning: Saturday,” Kessler said the Secret Service has a culture of corner-cutting.
“They don’t have enough agents, they don’t even put people through metal detectors sometimes because there’s pressure to let everybody in,” Kessler said. “It’s like letting passengers in an airplane without putting them through metal detectors. They don’t keep up-to-date with the latest firearms. They don’t even do physical tests. So, it’s a culture that leads to this kind of problem.”
Kessler pointed to a couple crashing a White House state dinner without an invitation as an example of a potential security threat.
He said that Mark Sullivan, director of the Secret Service, should have been fired after the fiasco involving gate-crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi, but has continued in the same position because of President Barack Obama’s confidence in the agency.
None of those relieved were part of the President’s protective detail, but that’s because the protective detail always remains with the President. That protective detail relies on the advance team to focus on setting up security and to identify potential threats. The core detail can’t do their jobs effectively unless the advance teams do theirs. As Kessler points out, the departure of the team that did that advance work necessarily makes the protective detail’s job more difficult as the new supplemental team has to get up to speed on what the original advance team was supposed to be doing.
Presumably, Congress will want to take a very close look at the Secret Service when the legislature returns from recess next week, and this should be one investigation that has bipartisan support in both chambers. We disagree on policy, but everyone wants the Secret Service to do an effective job protecting the President. If Kessler’s right, that may mean making some changes.
Update: Wait — it gets worse:
The U.S. military says five service members supporting the Secret Service in advance of President Barack Obama’s visit may have been involved in inappropriate conduct and have been confined to quarters. Obama is in Colombia for a Summit of the Americas.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the incident with the military personnel stems from the same episode involving about a dozen members of the Secret Service who were called back to the U.S. for an investigation into possible misconduct.
What. The. Hell.