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Tags: President | Obama | Secret | Service

Secret Service Laxness Puts President at Risk

Ronald Kessler By Monday, 27 February 2012 10:27 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C. — A female Secret Service agent on the president’s detail is so out of shape that she literally cannot open the heavy doors to exit the president’s limousine.

Instead of removing her from protecting the president and requiring her to pass the physical fitness tests that all agents are supposed to take every three months, Secret Service management told drivers to try to park so it would be easier for the vehicle door to swing open for her.

A female Secret Service agent cannot open the heavy limo doors.
(Getty Images)
Secret Service management is so lax that weapons in the White House that were supposed to be maintained regularly and tested were not.

When tests finally were conducted, several would not function.

These are but a few recent examples of the kind of Secret Service mismanagement exposed by my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect.”

Since the book came out in 2009, Michaele and Tareq Salahi and a third intruder crashed a White House state dinner. In that case, Secret Service uniformed officers at the White House gates simply ignored the fact that the intruders were not on the guest list and therefore had not undergone a background check.

In the opinion of many agents, Secret Service management is putting the president and presidential candidates at risk. Yet since the book has come out, no changes have been made, and no one has been held accountable for the slipshod way the Secret Service operates.

The Secret Service’s corner-cutting includes:
  • Not passing crowds through magnetometers at presidential, vice presidential, and campaign events. In other cases, the Secret Service shuts down magnetometer screening, under pressure from impatient White House or campaign staffs, when crowds are waiting to get in.
  • Cutting back on the size of counter-assault teams and, for the sake of cosmetics, 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, other federal law enforcement, and the military. Both the FBI and military have switched to the M4 carbine, while the Secret Service continues to use the MP5 submachine gun. Even the Amtrak Police Department is equipped with the M4.
  • 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.
“Forget physical fitness tests,” says a recently retired agent. “We are not given the time to do them.”

Demands on the Secret Service have increased in recent years without a commensurate increase in staff. As a consequence, 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,” an agent says.

“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 three days and has traveled through four different time zones.”

In addition, 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 anyone who showed up at the White House state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

If agents came under attack, many believe they would be outgunned.

“You’re going to be getting attacked with AK-47 assault rifles, you’re going to be getting attacked with M4s,” an agent says. “We want to be able to match or better whoever’s attacking us. You want to get the same range or better. The problem is, if you’re getting in a shootout in a motorcade, with the MP5, you’re shooting a pistol with a submachine gun round — you’re basically shooting a pistol round. You don’t want your rounds falling short and not even able to reach out to the bad guy. And that’s essentially what you’ve got going on with the weapons they have now.”

Secret Service agents say the agency has a fixation with diversity. While some female and black agents are among the agency’s finest, management requires others who are not well-qualified to guard the president for the sake of diversity.

“They want the optics to look good, regardless of their actual job skills,” says a veteran agent. “One should be black, one should be a female.”

This favoritism and disregard for the safety of protectees leads to low morale and increasingly high turnover. Underscoring the favoritism, the female agent who cannot open the president’s limousine doors is a supervisor. If the president were shot, she could not help carry him to safety, an agent notes.

“Agents are leaving in droves because they don’t want to deal any more with incompetent management,” says a longtime agent. “Friendships take precedence over competence. All that matters is who you can align yourself with in management.”

Management is intent on maintaining the status quo because it is the safest way to get along and obtain a future job within the agency or outside the government. Rocking the boat is seen as being disloyal. In many cases, former agents are the ones who hire agents for the private sector.

Agents say the corner-cutting began slowly after the Secret Service’s absorption into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. Before that, “Requests were made by staff to expedite or stop magnetometer screening,” says Danny Spriggs, who headed protection and retired as deputy director of the Secret Service in 2004. “I would never have acquiesced to that.”

“You face pressure from political staffs all the time, but you don’t stop magnetometer screening,” says Norm Jarvis, who taught new agents, was on Bill Clinton’s protective detail, and left the Secret Service in 2005 as a special agent in charge.

As noted in my story "Secret Service Director Just Doesn’t Get It," Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan has rejected the notion that the agency has institutional problems that led to the intrusions at the White House.

“Management becomes so insulated and so worried about their next job that they try not to rock the boat and try to keep everything the way it was at the expense of the core mission in front of them,” an agent says.

At the same time, “A very dedicated cadre of agents keeps President Obama safe despite management’s best efforts to maintain an unproductive work environment,” an agent says. “But sooner or later,” he predicts, “there will be a break in the dam, and we will have a disaster.”

“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. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.

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Monday, 27 February 2012 10:27 AM
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