Tuesday Reads: What’s Wrong With the Secret Service?

Uniformed Secret Service officers walk along the fence on the north side of the White House on Sept. 20 in Washington. (Susan Walsh / AP)

Uniformed Secret Service officers walk along the fence on the north side of the White House on Sept. 20 in Washington. (Susan Walsh / AP)

Good Morning!!

What is going on with the Secret Service? There has been one scandal after another involving the agency during Obama’s presidency. In the past couple of days The Washington Post broke the news that not only did Omar Gonzalez, the Iraq war veteran who jumped over the fence and got into the White House on Friday, September 19 actually get deep into the White House before being apprehended, but also the Secret Service apparently lied about that and a previous White House breach.

Carol D. Leonnig reports: White House fence-jumper made it far deeper into building than previously known.

The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident.

An alarm box near the front entrance of the White House designed to alert guards to an intruder had been muted at what officers believed was a request of the usher’s office, said a Secret Service official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The officer posted inside the front door appeared to be delayed in learning that the intruder, Omar Gonzalez, was about to burst through. Officers are trained that, upon learning of an intruder on the grounds — often through the alarm boxes posted around the property — they must immediately lock the front door.

After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.

Gonzalez was tackled by a counterassault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.

Below is a diagram of Gonzolez’ pathway through the White House, from The Daily Telegraph.

floor_plan_3056162c

 

Leonnig also reported a few days ago on a 2011 incident in which a gunman shot at the White House with a semiautomatic rifle: Secret Service fumbled response after gunman hit White House residence in 2011.

The gunman parked his black Honda directly south of the White House, in the dark of a November night, in a closed lane of Constitution Avenue. He pointed his semiautomatic rifle out of the passenger window, aimed directly at the home of the president of the United States, and pulled the trigger.

A bullet smashed a window on the second floor, just steps from the first family’s formal living room. Another lodged in a window frame, and more pinged off the roof, sending bits of wood and concrete to the ground. At least seven bullets struck the upstairs residence of the White House, flying some 700 yards across the South Lawn.

President Obama and his wife were out of town on that evening of Nov. 11, 2011, but their younger daughter, Sasha, and Michelle Obama’s mother,Marian Robinson, were inside, while older daughter Malia was expected back any moment from an outing with friends.

Secret Service officers initially rushed to respond. One, stationed directly under the second-floor terrace where the bullets struck, drew her .357 handgun and prepared to crack open an emergency gun box. Snipers on the roof, standing just 20 feet from where one bullet struck, scanned the South Lawn through their rifle scopes for signs of an attack. With little camera surveillance on the White House perimeter, it was up to the Secret Service officers on duty to figure out what was going on.

Then came an order that surprised some of the officers. “No shots have been fired. . . . Stand down,” a supervisor called over his radio. He said the noise was the backfire from a nearby construction vehicle.

White House shooter Oscar Ortega-Hernandez

White House shooter Oscar Ortega-Hernandez

That was just the beginning of the “fumbled response.”

That command was the first of a string of security lapses, never previously reported, as the Secret Service failed to identify and properly investigate a serious attack on the White House. While the shooting and eventual arrest of the gunman, Oscar R. Ortega-Hernandez, received attention at the time, neither the bungled internal response nor the potential danger to the Obama daughters has been publicly known. This is the first full account of the Secret Service’s confusion and the missed clues in the incident — and the anger the president and first lady expressed as a result.

By the end of that Friday night, the agency had confirmed a shooting had occurred but wrongly insisted the gunfire was never aimed at the White House. Instead, Secret Service supervisors theorized, gang members in separate cars got in a gunfight near the White House’s front lawn — an unlikely scenario in a relatively quiet, touristy part of the nation’s capital.

It took the Secret Service four days to realize that shots had hit the White House residence, a discovery that came about only because a housekeeper noticed broken glass and a chunk of cement on the floor.

Four days to figure out that bullets had struck inside the White House?! Unbelievable! And yet the White House came to the defense of the agency after Leonig’s report on the 2011 incident. From the LA Times:

“The men and women of the Secret Service put their lives on the line for the president of the United States, his family and folks working in the White House every single day, 24 hours a day,” deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “Their task is incredible and the burden that they bear is incredible.”

Blinken spoke in the wake of the publication of a story in The Washington Post about the Secret Service’s slow and confused response to the 2011 shooting. The gunman, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, was arrested for firing rifle shots at the White House from a nearby street.

Are officials afraid that Secret Service agents will be even more careless about the President’s safety if they are criticized? (Privately, the WaPo reported, President Obama and his wife Michelle were extremely angry after the shooting incident.) As for the “burden that they bear,” I guess that’s why agents have a history of drinking, carousing, and hiring prostitutes–to deal with all that stress? What if Obama or a member of his family had been wounded or killed during one of these security breaches?

At least some in Congress are taking the problem seriously. NPR reports, Secret Service Chief Faces Questions Over Breaches At White House.

The head of the U.S. Secret Service is in for a likely grilling from lawmakers today when she appears before a House committee to answer questions about the Sept. 19 security breach at the White House in which a man with a knife jumped a fence and made it inside the executive mansion before agents intercepted him.

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson will appear opposite members of the House Oversight Committee just as new information has come to light about the incident: The Washington Post reports that after jumping the fence, Omar Gonzalez made it past the front doors, overpowered a guard and then ran across the East Room before being tackled at the doorway to the Green Room.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the president and first family, who were not in the executive mansion at the time of the breach, are “obviously concerned” but have confidence in the Secret Service.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a member of the House Oversight Committee on Monday told The Associated Press that he’s “worried” that “over the last several years, security has gotten worse, not better.”

NPR’s Giles Snyder says while the fence jumper incident is likely to dominate the hearing, Pierson, who took over as Secret Service chief last year, is also expected to be questioned about a 2011 incident in which shots were fired at the White House.

Secret Service agents with President Obama on his arrival in Columbia in 2012

Secret Service agents with President Obama on his arrival in Columbia in 2012

The Daily Telegraph summarizes previous Secret Service screw-ups under Obama:

The American public first learned the phrase “wheels up party” in 2012. The term refers to agents’ often-drunken celebrations in a foreign country after a successful overseas trip by the President.

But during Mr Obama’s visit to Cartegena, Colombia, his bodyguards didn’t wait until the President had left town. Eleven agents were sent home after some allegedly drank and slept with prostitutes in the week leading up to Mr Obama’s visit. The Secret Service promised reform but a similar incident unfolded in Amsterdam in March when one agent was so drunk they passed out in a hotel hallway.

Less than a year after Mr Obama took office in 2009, he hosted a lavish state dinner for the Indian prime minister, inviting many of Washington’s most notable figures to attend.

But among the dignitaries were Michaele and Tareq Salahi, a Virginia couple who had dressed up for the event but had no invitation. They passed easily through the Secret Service cordon and photos later showed them smiling alongside Mr Obama and his top aides.

The ease with which the “party crashers” entered the White House exposed the Secret Service to ridicule but also raised serious questions about security.

Mr Obama is said to face an unprecedented level of death threats – both from right-wing extremists and Islamist militants – and the misfires by the Secret Service have dented the agency’s projection of invincibility.

Not that any of this irresponsible behavior by Secret Service agents is really all that surprising for those who remember history. There have been numerous reports of similar behavior before and during the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Russ Baker wrote about it at his blog “Who What Why” after the Colombia incidents in 2012.

Go back almost half a century, and look at the most shocking dereliction of duty ever—the failures that made it easy for someone (or someones) to assassinate John F Kennedy. The failings are endless, from not insisting that the bubble top go on Kennedy’s car, to having too few Secret Service agents protecting the president, to authorizing a particularly dangerous route that slowed the car way down, to allowing it to go through a canyon of windows—and then not checking or securing the windows or installing spotters or sharpshooters. A grade school kid could have done a more serious job of protecting the president….

And yet we continue to let this agency off the hook. We forgot that even LBJ, a direct beneficiary of the agency’s sloppiness with his former boss, trusted the outfit so little himself that he inquired at one point whether he could have the FBI protect him instead.

No agent on rear bumper of JFK's limo.

No agent on rear bumper of JFK’s limo.

The history of racist attitudes in the Secret Service is also concerning, as Baker argues:

It is foolish to ignore the worldviews and attitudes of people expected to protect presidents. Former Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden has described rampant racism and widespread contempt for Kennedy and his policies among Bolden’s fellow officers.

Now, here are a few salient details about the Secret Service today that go beyond trying to get a little “R&R”:  When Washington Post reporters visited the Virginia home of Texas native David R. Chaney, one of the Secret Service supervisors on the Colombia trip, they found a silver pickup truck parked in front. On the vehicle they spotted a bumper sticker with an outline of the state of Texas, and the word “secede.”

It is interesting to note that Chaney’s father served in the Secret Service when Kennedy was in office. As assistant agent in charge of personnel, he was friends with many of the agents who were in Dallas in November, 1963.

There’s much more at the link. Please read the whole thing.

There were also reports of drinking and carousing by Secret Service agents in Dallas the night before the assassination. Vince Palamara has spent years researching the Secret Service and the JFK assassination, and he published a book about it last year, Survivors’ Guilt: The Secret Service and the Failure to Protect President Kennedy.

I know there is lots of other news, but I thought this story was worth a full post. So . . . what other stories are you following today? Let us know in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday.

 

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49 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: What’s Wrong With the Secret Service?”

    • Beata says:

      Thanks, BB.

      Watching it on TV now. Rep. Elijah Cummings speaking.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Good. Let us know if you hear anything interesting. I’m having car trouble, and I have to drive my car 40 miles this afternoon (weird sensor problem) so I won’t be able to watch much of it.

  1. Pat Johnson says:

    Even more disturbing when you consider that the threats against Obama have quadrupled since he took office.

    What is wrong with this agency that they cannot fully protect the WH? And now with more religious psychos roaming around you would think that the SS presence would have become more efficient.

    Chilling when you think how close to the First Family this latest nutjob got before he was stopped.

    Shameful.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I agree. Can you imagine what it would do to this country if another president were assassinated? And the first black president? OMG.

      • dakinikat says:

        I can’t believe they ignored their own agents reporting shots fired and the smell of gunpowder and little Sasha Obama was in the residence. We’re not only talking about the President who some what knows they’re in for issues, we’re talking about small children and also Michelle’s elderly mom.

        • That the ignored the reports of shots fired so blatantly…geez! I can only envision Sasha and Mama Robinson with their arms up inside the WH yelling “hands up don’t shoot”

        • ANonOMouse says:

          The culture in the Secret Service seems to be one of “Party On” and that needs to be brought to an end. It’s way past time for a cultural and procedural overhaul of the entire organization.

          I saw JFK in Nashville in May 1963. I stood on the side of the road with hundreds/thousands of other people as the motorcade drove right past us with an open top and a smiling JFK waving and flashing his dazzling white toothed smile to the crowd. It could well have been the same vehicle he was in on his final trip to Dallas. I have often wondered if it was. On that day the motorcade route looked to be completely unguarded. Local police only closed off side streets to the motorcade route so that the President’s vehicle had the right of way. He was so close to us I could have reached out and touched him as he passed by. The thought even crossed my mind that if there had been someone in the crowd with a weapon he could have been killed that day. When he was assassinated the following November in Dallas I remember thinking how little thought and work was put into actually protecting him in Nashville and I wasn’t surprised how easy it was for Oswald (or whoever) to kill him.

        • Fannie says:

          They narrowly escaped, a few more minutes, and he might have gotten to them. I can’t help but wonder if the problems have something to do being under Homeland Security, and if the Patriot Act has an impact too. Prior to that they were housed under the US Dept. Treasury. Currently, 5 presidents get full protection, as well as their families. Of the 23 administrators, Julia Pierson is the first woman to hold that position. Back during the Prostitute Scandal, their were 11 men involved, and 9 of those retired or resigned. They had booze, strippers, and whatever else they could get their hands on.

          There has got to be shake-up, it’s obvious that those serving have poor job performances, and need to go, and lose their pensions. Otherwise put them on the fence and turn on the electricity and get them to wake the hell up.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    There’s already quite a backlash against the new social media site Ello.

    Information Week, Ello: Why Users Will Say Goodbye.

    sfist, Ello ship has sailed into backlash.

    And now they’ve had a DDOS attack, according to PC Mag.

    • Beata says:

      I’ve read before that the Ello site has security problems. Not something I’m willing to try.

      • NW Luna says:

        The fact that it’s invite-only doesn’t sit well with me. Obviously, you can tell I didn’t get an invite. But then I don’t use Facebook or LinkedIn or the other data-mining services. Not that plenty of other sites and services don’t do data mining also, but I try to minimize exposure.

        • dakinikat says:

          I can invite you. Bunch of us New Orleans folks are in. I invited BB and she invited JJ so we have invites. Just let us know if the email on your profile is where you want the invite and if not tell us which email.

  3. janicen says:

    I’ve been wondering if the problem is racism or just the fact that there is a Dem in the White House that’s causing these lapses lately. The supervisor who gave the stand down order when an automatic weapon was fired at the White House should be dismissed without benefits. I don’t blame the Obamas for being angry about it. I saw the story on the TV news and apparently they didn’t figure out that shots were actually fired until the next day or two later when a maid reported finding broken glass around one of the windows to Mrs. Obama. Now that level of incompetence should be nowhere near the White House.

    • bostonboomer says:

      It was four days (!) till they figured out the shots were fired–see WaPo article quoted above.

      I think racism could be an issue, but the Secret Service didn’t do very well under Bush either. On 9/11, they should have secured him immediately when the news got to them (which was before Bush went to the school). But once he was there, they should have cancelled the school visit. Then when they got the news of the second plane, they should have interrupted the visit immediately. After they did get Bush out, they overreacted by flying him around the country when he should have been back at the White House. Total screw up.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Source confirms to CNN that the link between Jesse Matthew and the Morgan Harrington murder is based on DNA evidence. That would make two murders and one rape connected to Mathew by DNA. How many other victims are there?

    http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/29/us/virginia-hannah-graham/

  5. dakinikat says:

    file this under the wtf category for me

    http://rawstory.tumblr.com/post/98786354677/dropkick-me-jesus

    A Muslim football player was penalized during Monday night’s nationally-televised game for praying after scoring a touchdown, SB Nation reported.

    Officials cited Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Husain Abdullah for “unsportsmanlike conduct” for dropping to the ground and kneeling after scoring a touchdown against New England.

    According to SB Nation, Abdullah practices the traditional Muslim fast during Ramadan, even though it coincides with training camp, and missed the 2012 season so that he could take part in the Hajj to Mecca with his brother Hamza Abdullah, a former NFL player.

    We had to endure Tim Tebow and his sanctimonious supporters but not once was his public display of piety given a damned penalty. Can we even try to look even handed about crap like this?

  6. Sweet Sue says:

    Members of the Secret Service hate it when a Democrat is in the White House.
    Several of them provided “stories” to the right wing press when Clinton was President.

    • Yes, I agree with you completely Sue. But I can’t help but think this Secret Service hatred of Obama has racial undertones.

      • Sweet Sue says:

        Maybe, so.
        But at least, no one is accusing the Obamas of hanging pornography on their White House Christmas trees.

    • Fannie says:

      When they think of security, they are thinking of their savings account and all the pension funds, and stocks they have accumulated. Meanwhile everybody else in this country have lost jobs, homes, and there is nothing real happy to sign about. The hell with protecting our government.

  7. NW Luna says:

    Ferguson demands high fees to turn over city files

    Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees’ salaries before they will agree to turn over files under public records laws about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

    Missouri’s attorney general on Monday, after the AP first disclosed the practice, contacted Ferguson’s city attorney to ask for more information regarding fees related to document requests, the attorney general’s spokeswoman said.

    The move to charge high fees discourages journalists and civil rights groups from investigating the shooting and its aftermath. And it follows dozens of records requests to Ferguson under the state’s Sunshine Law, which can offer an unvarnished look into government activity.

    The city has demanded high fees to produce copies of records that, under Missouri law, it could give away free if it determined the material was in the public’s interest to see. Instead, in some cases, the city has demanded high fees with little explanation or cost breakdown.

  8. NW Luna says:

    Blind for 2 years, bird survives world’s first-ever falcon cataract surgery

    With a huff, and a puff, and a cock of her head to the side, Banner the lanner falcon announced yesterday at 4 p.m. that yes, she had made it through her surgery just fine, thank you. Would everyone please stop staring at her now?

    Banner, who belongs to Jim and Nancy Cowan at the New Hampshire School of Falconry in Deering, is the first falcon in the world to have cataract surgery. She’s had a cataract in each of her eyes for almost two years, and without her sight, she hasn’t been able to hunt or even fly.

    Yesterday, a team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians carefully drugged her, cut into her cornea, removed the cloudy protein and implanted a uniquely designed artificial lens, and sewed her cornea shut again.

    “It amazes me how strong she is,” Nancy Cowan said as she watched Banner’s clear dark eyes scan the crowded hallway. “Lanners have a reputation as quiet birds, and I think it works for her, that temperament, that she’s a bit sweeter than other falcons.”

    http://www.concordmonitor.com/home/13277048-95/deering-bird-survives-worlds-first-ever-falcon-cataract-surgery

  9. dakinikat says:

    and another example of why women should not be so trusting of cops …

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/09/nyc-cop-accused-of-breaking-into-womans-home-beating-her-sometimes-im-a-bad-guy/

    A Bronx police officer plead innocent on Monday to charges that he broke into a 30-year-old woman’s apartment in June, appearing by her bed in his underwear and saying, “Sometimes I’m a good guy, but sometimes I’m a bad guy” before dragging her from the bed and beating her.

  10. Boo Radly says:

    Thank you for this post. It is unbelievable how inept the White House SS seems(is?) The Obama family, WH employees, visitors deserve much better and have demonstrated great empathy for SS but enough is enough. Each day Ferguson city law employees show up as a huge cesspool of ignorance. I confess I have been shocked beyond belief at the level of racism shown – it physically sickens me. The lack of outrage from people in my circle has been shocking also. Very depressing. I went back to watching some MSM news and witnessed Don Lemon being harassed by the crazed racist. Don was amazing in his coverage, restraint. My blood boils and I have no outlet for my disgust as computer has been down a lot. So thankful for Skydancing – steadfast in your believes.

  11. dakinikat says:

    http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/sep/30/leonardo-da-vinci-painting-portrait-lady-ermine

    Secrets of Leonardo da Vinci painting laid bare by new scanning technique
    Art expert hails ‘remarkable’ revelation by French scientist that Lady with an Ermine portrait was painted three times

  12. dakinikat says:

    http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/obama-move-doorman-building

    WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—President Barack Obama has decided to move his family into a full-service doorman building in Washington, D.C., saying that “it just makes more sense right now.”

    • Fannie says:

      I didn’t read that Dak, but it came to mind about the same time I thought of Philadelphia, Ms. “Better be out of town by midnight” kind of thing. The president can not turn down the the Secret Service, it would take an act of congress and that isn’t going to happen. Last week what’s her name, Sarah Palin, was at the Values Voter Summit, and said the “error at 1400 Pennsylvania Street” would come to end. These nuts give us plenty to worry about.

  13. bostonboomer says:

    Investigators looking into possible connection between Jesse Matthew and another unsolved abduction/murder case, that of Cassandra Morton, found in Lynchburg, VA not far from Liberty U., which Matthew attended.

    http://wtvr.com/2014/09/30/jesse-matthew-cassandra-morton-investigation/

    Matthew was also apparently accused of rape at another college he went to. Afterward, he quit the football team and dropped out after 9 months.

    http://www.wric.com/story/26661221/police-say-jesse-matthew-could-be-tied-to-2009-murder-of-morgan-harrington

    • janicen says:

      OMG. It’s possible we had two predators operating in this state over the past several years; Matthew and Taylor.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Maybe Taylor didn’t do it. The article said Taylor’s attorney is asking for more info on Mathew that could exculpatory for his client.

        • janicen says:

          Nelson County is a small-townish community where my mother-in-law lives. From what I’m told, some belongings of Alexis Murphy were found in Taylor’s home. There was a lot of other evidence implicating Taylor from what I’m told so I’d be very surprised if Taylor were not guilty. I wasn’t at the trial but apparently the prosecutors and police did a great job keeping details out of the media that were only revealed at trial.

    • janicen says:

      This is exactly why college/university/campus “sexual assault” cases need to be taken seriously and prosecuted. This “college boys will be college boys” treatment of these cases must stop now.

  14. dakinikat says:

    MUST READ article: http://www.salon.com/2014/07/16/i_was_poor_but_a_gop_die_hard_how_i_finally_left_the_politics_of_shame/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

    I was poor, but a GOP die-hard: How I finally left the politics of shame
    I hated government — even as it was the only thing trying to save me. Here’s how, one day, I finally saw the light

  15. bostonboomer says:

    Breaking . . . .

    Obama Rode Elevator With Armed Ex-Convict In Latest Secret Service Slip-Up

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/30/obama-elevator-secret-service_n_5910214.html