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Secret Service Director Just Doesn't Get It

By Ronald Kessler   |   Thursday, 03 Dec 2009 05:53 PM

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan’s congressional testimony about the security breach at the White House suggests he still doesn’t get that the agency's corner cutting jeopardizes President Obama life.

To be sure, Sullivan told the House Committee on Homeland Security Thursday that the failure to bar two uninvited guests at a White House State Dinner was entirely the fault of the Secret Service, and the agency is deeply embarrassed.

Although Sullivan said it would have been helpful if the White House social secretary’s office had had representatives at the guard post, as it has during previous administrations, he said the Secret Service Uniformed Division officer who let Michaele and Tareq Salahi into the White House event could have called just as easily that office to try to confirm whether they were invited.

Three Secret Service personnel who were at the guard post have been placed on administrative leave, said Sullivan, who also properly acknowledged the daily high-quality performance of Secret Service agents.

But Sullivan referred to the security breach as a “human error.” He rejected any notion that it was symptomatic of a series of management deficiencies, as outlined in my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect.”

“I don’t believe it is an institutional problem,” Sullivan said. “I believe it is an isolated incident.”

Yet “human error” does not explain a Secret Service uniformed officer’s conscious decision to ignore the fact that the Salahis were not on the guest list. Again and again, Sullivan said he wished he knew why the officer disregarded the list and let them in.

In my view, that decision stemmed from serial Secret Service deficiencies that contributed to the officer’s malfeasance. As outlined in the Newsmax article "White House Security Breach Endangers the President," Secret Service officers and agents are forced to work ridiculous hours. Because the Secret Service refuses to demand more funds, the workload overwhelms agents. They are aware of the agency’s practice of corner cutting, including not passing people through magnetometers or shutting the devices down early, cutting back on the size of counter-assault teams, and not even allowing agents time for regular firearms requalification or physical training.

They are also aware that the agency does not necessarily back officers and agents when, in the face of political pressure, they follow the rules. As one example, when Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary 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.

Given the spinelessness of Secret Service management, I can easily imagine that the Secret Service Uniformed Division officer who let the Salahis in feared repercussions if he turned away the glamorous couple.

Overworked, underappreciated, and infuriated by senseless transfer policies, agents are resigning in increasing numbers, forcing the agency to hire inexperienced, less-qualified agents. Within the Uniformed Division alone, the attrition rate is as high as 12 percent a year.

Only once did Sullivan refer to the Secret Service’s own failure in operating the guard post. It had only one magnetometer, although it usually would have two, he said.

That suggests that uniformed officers were under even more pressure than usual to move everyone through the checkpoint. It is another symptom of the Secret Service’s lack of funds to hire sufficient personnel.

But Sullivan denied to committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., who ran the hearing with remarkable fairness, that the agency needs more funds. “At this particular time,” he said, threats against Obama are not running at a rate any higher than when President Bush was in office.

But the number of threats varies constantly. On March 25, for example, Sullivan testified that threats were at “high levels.” Sullivan dismissed the idea that the White House security breach means the agency needs a shake-up.

In doing so, Sullivan, while respected as an agent, only confirmed that he is not the right man to head an agency entrusted with protecting the life of the president.

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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