Threats against President Obama have become so disturbing that a secret Presidential Threat Task Force has been created within the FBI to gather, track, and evaluate assassination threats that might be related to domestic or international terrorism.
The task force operates within the FBI’s National Security Branch. It consists of 20 representatives from pertinent agencies, including agents from the FBI and Secret Service and operatives from the CIA, the NSA, and the Defense Department, as well as analysts.
The disclosure appears in a new chapter to the paperback edition of my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect,”
which hits bookstores Aug. 3.
The hardcover edition reported that threats against Obama rose by as much as 400 percent compared with when President Bush was in office. Although threats fluctuate, the level continues to be at high enough levels to call for the threat task force. Many of the threats are from racists who have no connection with politics.
At the same time, the Secret Service, which let party crashers into the White House in November, has been spinelessly acceding to requests of the Obama administration officials for Secret Service protection in instances where there are no threats against them.
As a result, 40 Obama administration officials and White House aides are under Secret Service protection, compared with 32 under George W. Bush. No one outside of the government has heard of most of these officials, but they have one thing in common: They enjoy being chauffeured free of charge by the Secret Service.
The expansion in protection has occurred while the Secret Service is jeopardizing the president’s safety by cutting corners because of understaffing and a management culture that is indifferent to the potential risks, as detailed in the book.
The Secret Service’s deficiencies led to the intrusion by Michaele and Tareq Salahi at the White House state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. As it turned out, they weren’t the only party crashers, as revealed in the Newsmax story "Secret Service Let Third Intruder into White House."
The Secret Service knew about the third intruder for weeks and had identified him, but mortified Secret Service officials failed to inform the House Homeland Security Committee, which was investigating the original breach at the White House.
After I asked the Secret Service for comment, I wrote a story for Newsmax.com revealing that a third intruder had crashed the state dinner. Having failed to respond to my request for comment, the Secret Service issued a statement within two hours confirming that “a third individual, who was not on the White House guest list, entered the state dinner.”
The breach was a deliberate, conscious decision by uniformed officers to ignore the fact that the Salahis and Carlos Allen, the third intruder, were not on the guest list. Those decisions are an expected consequence of the agency’s practice of cutting corners.
The corner-cutting includes:
- Not passing crowds through magnetometers, or shutting down the devices early, at presidential events.
- Cutting back on the size of counter-assault teams and bowing to demands of staff that the teams remain at a great distance from protectees.
- Not keeping up to date with the latest, most powerful firearms used by the FBI and the military.
- Not allowing agents time for regular firearms requalification or physical training. The Secret Service covers that up by asking agents to fill out their own test scores.
No doubt the uniformed officers who decided to wave the Salahis into the state dinner were aware of the corner-cutting and were overwhelmed by the workload. In part because the Secret Service refuses to demand funds for adequate staffing, the attrition rate is as high as 12 percent a year within the Uniformed Division alone.
In addition, the agency bows to political pressure. When agents refused to drive friends of Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary to restaurants, she got her detail leader removed. The fact that Secret Service management does not back personnel when they are just doing their jobs had to contribute to the uniformed officers’ reluctance to turn away guests at the state dinner and face possible repercussions.
“To this date, not one high-level person has been held accountable for these failures and corner cutting,” a Secret Service official, who declined to be named, tells me. “Secretary Janet Napolitano has failed to hold this director accountable. He [Mark Sullivan] doesn’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers. He doesn’t want to ask for more money. He is more concerned about appeasing the administration.”
The official adds, “A large majority at headquarters has lost faith in him. Everybody’s waiting for the day he leaves. This agency has some very talented people, and that is clearly lacking in the case of the director.”
Despite the breaches and corner-cutting, Obama has said he has complete confidence in the Secret Service, signaling that he sees no need for a change in management. Given the clear warning signs, that is just as reckless as Abraham Lincoln’s and John F. Kennedy’s disregard for security.
Lincoln resisted efforts of his friends, the police, and the military to safeguard him. Finally, late in the Civil War, he agreed to allow four Washington police officers to act as his bodyguards. But on the night of his assassination, only one D.C. patrolman, John F. Parker, was guarding him.
Instead of remaining on guard outside the president’s box at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, Parker went to a nearby saloon for a drink. As a result of Parker’s negligence, just after 10 p.m., John Wilkes Booth made his way to Lincoln’s box, sneaked in, and shot him in the back of the head. The president died the next morning.
Kennedy told Secret Service agents he did not want them to ride on the small running boards at the rear of his limousine in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
“If agents had been allowed on the rear running boards, they would have pushed the president down and jumped on him to protect him before the fatal shot,” Charles “Chuck” Taylor, who was an agent on the Kennedy detail, tells me.
Confirming that, Secret Service Director Lewis Merletti later said, “An analysis of the ensuing assassination, including the trajectory of the bullets which struck the president, indicates that it might have been thwarted had agents been stationed on the car’s running boards.”
In the case of Obama, in the view of many current Secret Service agents interviewed for “In the President’s Secret Service,” the result of the Secret Service’s corner-cutting could be a security breach with deadly consequences.
Although Secret Service agents are brave and dedicated, the agency’s management needs to be replaced. On the night of Obama’s state dinner, it was a pretty blonde. Tomorrow, it could be an assassin.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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