The alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States highlights how vulnerable President Barack Obama is.
While Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir normally has little or no security protection, the U.S. Secret Service has been cutting corners to such a degree that current agents say an assassination of the president is possible.
That risk has been heightened in recent months because Obama has embarked on a frenetic round of trips across the country building up to the 2012 election. That puts an extra strain on the Secret Service because each trip requires weeks of advance work by agents.
Having to protect so many Republican presidential contenders will strain the Secret Service even more.
As noted in my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect
,” the agency began cutting corners in 2003 after it was merged into the Department of Homeland Security.
Being submerged in what many view as a dysfunctional agency and having to compete for funds with other national security agencies led to a lowering of standards. In addition, under Director Mark Sullivan, the Secret Service has the attitude that it can “make do with less,” discouraging requests for adequate funding to carry out its mission.
At the same time, the Secret Service, which let party crashers into the White House in November 2009, has been spinelessly acceding to requests of Obama administration officials for protection when there are no threats against them. 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 cuts corners because of understaffing and a management culture that is indifferent to the potential risks.
The corner cutting includes:
- Not passing crowds through magnetometers, or shutting down the metal detectors early, at presidential and campaign events.
- Cutting back on the size of counter-assault teams and bowing to demands of staff that the teams remain at a 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 telling agents to fill out their own test scores.
The increased demands on the Secret Service without a commensurate increase in staff means agents routinely work overtime and often get little sleep working 18-hour days.
“How tired do you get? Just imagine sleeping three or four hours a night for a week,” says an agent.
“Pilots have mandatory rest periods,” says a former agent. “But you’ve got a guy standing next to the president with a loaded gun who hasn’t had sleep in 3 days and has traveled through four different time zones.”
On top of that, the agency bows to political pressure, further jeopardizing security. 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 contributed to Secret Service uniformed officers’ reluctance to turn away Michaele and Tareq Salahi at the White House state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“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.
This penny-pinching approach comes at a time when well-funded terrorists have replaced the lone deranged gunman as the greatest threat to American elected officials.
Threats against 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 Secret Service’s budget of $1.7 billion is equal to the price of a few stealth bombers. It covers not only protection of the president and his family, the vice president, visiting heads of state, the national nominating conventions, and inaugurations, but also investigations of counterfeiting and electronic financial crimes.
Yet rather than request substantially more funds, the Secret Service assures Obama and members of Congress that the agency is fulfilling its job with the modest increases it requests, even as it takes on more duties, and sleep-deprived agents work almost around the clock.
Secret Service agents are patriots who will take a bullet for the president. But in the view of many current Secret Service agents, the result of the corner cutting by management could be a security breach with deadly consequences.
“We don’t have enough people or the equipment to do protection the way they advertise they do,” a veteran agent says. “And how we have not had an incident up to this point is truly amazing, a miracle.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is a New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. His latest, "The Secrets of the FBI," has just been published. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via email. Go Here Now.
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