White House Security Lapse a Disgrace

By: Ronald Kessler

The fact that party crashers were allowed into a White House State Dinner without being on the guest list is emblematic of the Secret Service’s corner cutting detailed in my book, “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect.“

It’s clear from the Secret Service’s comment that the agency not only ignored the fact that the couple was not on the guest list but also did not do the usual background check to ensure that they were not possible threats. The party crashers could have had outstanding arrest warrants for murder. They could have been involved with terrorists. They could have been agents of Iran or North Korea. The Secret Service would never have known.

While the couple did pass through a magnetometer to detect weapons, they could have assassinated the president or vice president using other means—anthrax, for example. The additional security checks referred to by the Secret Service spokesman screen for such items as radiological contamination but would not detect secreted biological weapons.

The fact that the couple was allowed in in this dangerous age is a disgrace and is symptomatic of lax standards at the Secret Service ever since it was absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. Because of lack of adequate funding, a management culture that considers itself invincible, and spinelessness when it comes to standing up to demands by those under protection, including the White House itself, the Secret Service now takes chances that would have been unthinkable prior to its absorption into Homeland Security.

As outlined in the Newsmax story Secret Service Is Putting the President at Risk, the corner cutting includes not putting people through magnetometers at all or shutting them down early when an event is about to start and staffs apply pressure to the Secret Service because attendees are waiting outside; cutting the size of counterassault teams; not keeping up to date with the latest firearms; and not even allowing agents time for regular firearms requalification or physical training, then covering that up by asking agents to fill out their own test scores.

Under pressure by White House or campaign staffs, the Secret Service has actually pretended to pass people through metal defectors but has turned then off so no alarm goes off to signal that a possible weapon or grenade has been detected. Last April, despite the fact that his presence was announced beforehand, the Secret Service did no magnetometer screening whatsoever when Vice President Biden threw the first pitch at the Orioles game in Baltimore.

When Mary Cheney, Dick Cheney’s daughter, insisted that the Secret Service take her friends to restaurants and the detail refused, the Secret Service acceded to her request to have her detail leader removed.

My assumption is that the same kind of spinelessness and desire to please the White House motivated the Secret Service Uniformed Division officer at the White House to allow the couple through so as not to inconvenience them by requiring that they wait for the results of a background check before gaining admittance.

To its credit, the Secret Service made it clear that the agency simply ignored the fact that the couple was not on the guest list. Thus, the White House’s social secretary’s office did not vouch for the couple. Even if it had, they should have gone through a background check before being admitted.

In interviews at headquarters for the book, the Secret Service admitted that it lets people into events for the president and vice president without fully screening everyone with magnetometers, but Secret Service officials offered excuses. That is like letting passengers into an airplane without putting them through metal detectors. When asked about this practice, former agents up to the level of deputy director told me on the record they would never have allowed such laxness when they were in the agency.

The corner cutting continues despite the fact that at times, threats against President Obama have been up 400 percent compared with when President Bush was in office.

While Secret Service agents are brave and dedicated and will take a bullet for the president, Secret Service management has betrayed its trust to a shocking degree. Assassinations occur because of the kind of lapses we saw at the White House on Tuesday evening.

What is needed is a shakeup of Secret Service management, including replacement of Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan with a director from the outside who will change the management culture. In addition, given the demands on it, the Secret Service’s $1.4 billion annual budget is pathetically small and should be doubled or tripled. What could be more important than protecting the president.

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