Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C.
— To become a Secret Service agent, applicants must pass a polygraph exam. But after being hired, agents are never required to undergo regular lie detector testing again.
In contrast, the FBI polygraphs all employees — not just agents — every five years. FBI counterintelligence agents are polygraphed more often.
|A Secret Service agent looks on as Marine One lands on the South Lawn of the White House.
In addition, the FBI’s nearly 14,000 agents are required to attend annual updates on law, ethics, and security. But after initial training, the Secret Service’s 3,400 agents receive no annual in-service instruction. Training in security is limited to a minimal online update.
After the scandal involving agents hiring prostitutes in Colombia, the Secret Service announced it will provide ethics training — but only to 100 agents.
“Local police departments have in-service training every year,” says a Secret Service agent. “You are updated on basic criminal law, new court rulings, about probable cause, what you need to develop in order to detain someone. The Secret Service teaches agents once, in their basic training, and there is no training on developments after that.”
Secret Service agents could be enlisted by a terrorist organization or a foreign intelligence service to provide access to the president for an assassination or to allow installation of bugging devices or access to top secret information. Regular polygraphing would likely detect such a compromise, as well as deter it.
Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan did not respond to a request for comment. A day after that request, the Secret Service announced it was increasing the number of agents who will take ethics training from 20 to 100.
As noted in my book “The Secrets of the FBI,”
the FBI learned the hard way how important regular polygraph testing is. After the arrest of CIA officer Aldrich Ames in 1994 for spying, Robert “Bear” Bryant, as head of the bureau’s National Security Division, urged FBI Director Louis Freeh to approve regular polygraph tests for all counterintelligence agents. Faced with opposition from many special agents in charge of field offices and from the FBI Agents Association, Freeh shelved the proposal.
Polygraph tests are not perfect, but if nothing else, they are a deterrent. If Freeh had approved Bryant’s proposal in 1994 to polygraph counterintelligence agents, FBI agent Robert Hanssen likely would have stopped spying for the Russians.
Instead, for seven years after Freeh refused to allow regular polygraphing, Hanssen continued to provide the Russians with the most damaging information in the history of American espionage.
If the lack of regular Secret Service polygraph testing and in-service training is difficult to conceive of, so is the fact that 12 agents would engage prostitutes in Colombia, that Secret Service management regularly tells agents to let people into events without magnetometer screening, and that Secret Service Uniformed Division officers allowed three people who were not on the guest list into a White House state dinner in 2009.
As revealed 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 failings are a symptom of a lax management culture. Despite the scandals, President Obama has repeatedly expressed confidence in the Secret Service under Director Mark Sullivan.
The lack of in-service training updates extends to all of the Secret Service’s duties.
“Most law enforcement agencies require anywhere from 40 to 120 hours per year of in-service training for its officers,” says an agent on one of the top protective details. “Do you know how many days of protective training I’ve had in the last two years? Zero. No review of legal rulings, interview techniques, investigative trends, protective intelligence investigations, or advance protection work. No constant training in ambush response, emergency medicine scenarios, or emergency vehicle operation.”
The same lackadaisical attitude applies to firearms training and physical fitness requirements.
Secret Service rules require agents based in Washington to qualify with a pistol once a month and with long guns every three months. But, in contrast to years past, many agents find they are given time to take the qualifying test for long guns only once or twice a year.
“I’ve had conversations with special agents in charge who say they are not able to get the requalification training in they would like because of the operational demands they have,” says Danny Spriggs, who retired from the Secret Service as deputy director in 2004. In previous years, “We never sacrificed training,” he says.
Agents who have left the Secret Service to join other federal law enforcement agencies report that training in firearms and counterterrorism tactics in those agencies in many cases far exceeds the quality of what the Secret Service offered.
“They actually encourage training here rather than making up excuses for not training,” one of those agents says.
Standards are so lax that agents are actually handed blank evaluations for possible promotions and fitness ratings and asked to fill them in themselves.
“You are supposed to do your physical training test quarterly, but I haven’t done one in two, three years,” an agent says. “When you do, you enter your scores yourself on a form and hand it in.” In fact, the agent says, “I’m one of the PT instructors. And because the service takes physical training so lightly, I don’t take it seriously either. Just give me a sheet, and I trust that what the agent says he did is accurate.”
A third agent estimates that 99 percent of the agents provide their own scores for the PT test. “You fill out a form, hand it to the guy, he enters it in, and he doesn’t know if you did your PT test or not,” he says. “You test yourself.”
As a result, agents say, many of their colleagues are out of shape.
“Some of them, you just roll your eyes,” an agent says. “One agent cannot even do a situp. I know for a fact he can’t because his belly’s already up to his chin. Just look at some of the details, and you can really see where the standards have gone — downhill.”
“We had a post stander, a female agent, and I was in shock,” says an agent, referring to agents assigned to guard a specific area or site on a temporary basis. “Overweight, out of shape, just disgusting. And you look at this person and say, ‘If I’m going to go through a door with you to execute a search warrant, are you going to have my back? If I get shot, are you going to be able to carry me out? Or are you going to be able to get up four flights of stairs because I’m in a fight with somebody?’ Probably not.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is the New York Times bestselling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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