Change in Secret Service Mission Needed Following Repeated Breaches of White House Security

“It is time for the Secret Service to focus on the mission of personal protection and not the physical security of the White House…” 

It happened.  The Secret Service, the very entity we trust to protect the President, failed again.

Let me first say that I have the utmost respect for the Secret Service officers that dedicate their very lives to the President’s personal detail.  These men and women put their lives on the line to protect the President and the First Family.

Over the course of my career in the military, law enforcement, and as part of high-risk security missions overseas in war zones, I have been involved in protecting both dignitaries and highly secure facilities.  I protected nuclear installations and supervised security at high-value intelligence facilities with an entirely different set of protocols that are just as exacting.

The point is the continued breaches in the security and integrity of the White House under the watch of the Secret Service is completely unacceptable.  Had my performance been this unsatisfactory, not only would I have lost my job, but I would be in jail.  It is time to call the Secret Service to task and make an honest evaluation.  It is time to take a different approach because what they have been doing as it pertains to the security and integrity of the White House is not working.

The following is the protection mission of the Secret Service as taken from their official website:

The Secret Service is world-renowned for the physical protection it provides to the nation’s highest elected leaders and other government officials.  Permanent protectees, such as the president and first lady, have details of special agents permanently assigned to them.  Temporary protectees, such as candidates and foreign dignitaries, are staffed with special agents on temporary assignment from Secret Service field offices.  All current and former presidents are entitled to lifetime Secret Service protection.

That all sounds well and good, but the simple fact is the Secret Service is plagued with failures, breaches in security, protocol, and even in the commitment of its personnel.

We all see the visible aspects of the Secret Service.  We see the well-dressed presidential security detail in suits, ear pieces, and lapel pins.  We all saw the stern and focused look of ultra-alert individuals scanning the crowds and walking along with the presidential party.  It all looks excellent and official, and it is.  The Secret Service Presidential Protective Division second to none. However, the Secret Service’s track record in terms of protecting the physical security of the White House has been abysmal.

The problem they are having is called mission creep. This happens when the mission gets too diluted and strays away from what should be the primary and only task of protecting the President and the physical space surrounding him by means of his personal security detail.

In the last 10 years, there have been several glaring lapses in security, protocol and in some cases, just plain sloppiness. Here are some examples:

March 16, 2007 – Catalino Lucas Diaz was arrested after he scaled the perimeter fence with a package and threatened officers with a bomb.

June 9, 2009 – Pamela Morgan was arrested after jumping the perimeter fence onto the northeast corner of the grounds while carrying a backpack which contained nothing of importance inside.

June 9, 2013 – Joseph Clifford Reel was arrested after sending a driverless jeep speeding down Pennsylvania Avenue crashing into the gate as a diversion so he could spray paint the side of the White House. Joseph was eventually caught in the north courtyard and sentenced to 3 years in prison.

March 30, 2014 – An unidentified male was arrested after climbing over the perimeter fence.

September 11, 2014 – Jeffrey Grossman, 26, of Rensselaer, New York, was arrested after he scales the perimeter fence and entered the North Lawn while carrying a Pikachu doll and wearing a Pikachu hat. He was taken to George Washington University Hospital for a mental health evaluation.

September 19, 2014 – Omar Gonzalez jumped the perimeter fence from the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the White House and entered through the North Portico doors.  Upon entering he overpowered a Secret Service officer and ran through most of the main floor before he was tackled by a counter-assault agent.

October 22, 2014 – Dominic Adesanya, formerly of Bel Air, Maryland, jumped the perimeter fence onto the north lawn and was quickly taken down by two security dogs whom which he punched and kicked before being arrested by the Secret Service. He was later ordered by a judge to a mental health facility. Adesanya, who had jumped the White House fence twice in July 2014, pleaded guilty to entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds and was sentenced in July 2015 to time served and one year of supervised release. Adesanya’s lawyer said that he suffered from schizophrenia.

March 2, 2015 – An unidentified man dressed in a construction suit tried to enter the White House grounds through the gate on Pennsylvania Avenue near East Executive Avenue in the early morning. Uniformed Division officers stopped him and was taken into custody.

November 26, 2015 – Joseph Anthony Caputo, 22, of Stamford, Connecticut, was arrested by Secret Service agents almost immediately after jumping over a White House fence as the first family was inside celebrating Thanksgiving. In a plea agreement with prosecutors, Caputo pleaded guilty to one federal misdemeanor count of illegal entry of restricted grounds and was sentenced to three years’ probation with various conditions.

May 20, 2016 – The 2016 White House shooting occurred when Jesse Olivieri attacked the White House security checkpoint. The Secret Service shot and arrested him. After the incident, Secret Service authorities closed the White House for 45 minutes and blocked nearby streets. Primary investigations revealed that it was not related to terrorism.

March 10, 2017 – A man carrying a backpack, later identified as Jonathan Tuan Tran, 26, of Milpitas, California, was arrested after jumping the White House perimeter fence and came within steps of the mansion. Court papers charged Tran with “entering or remaining in restricted grounds while using or carrying a dangerous weapon” and stated that he had two cans of mace in his possession at the time of the incident.  He was free on the White House grounds for approx. 17 mins before being arrested.

Finally, last Friday, a Secret Service agent left her work-issued laptop, insignia, lapel pins, and other items in her car parked at her home. The car was burglarized, and the items were stolen. Let me ask a logical question: what law enforcement agent leaves their credentials and highly sensitive items unattended in a car parked at night in the driveway of an area that is known to have a burglary problem?  It is unbelievable that a trained agent would make that mistake.  I know I never left my weapons, IDs, or laptops in the car in an unsecured location.  It just didn’t happen; it would have been sloppy and careless.

Further to the above, and not a subject of this article, I am not even going to mention the lapses in judgement that have plagued the Secret Service to include alcohol scandals, prostitution scandals, and agents refusing to protect the President.

It is time for the Secret Service to focus on the mission of personal protection not the physical security of the White House.  The White House should be one of the most secure locations in the world.  There is no reason why these incidents keep happening.  There is a solution.

The security of the White House — the physical security — must be turned over to a highly trained and specialized unit. Clear policies, rules of engagement and procedures must be meticulously followed and enforced by a cadre of professionals. Security team personnel must not be under the same protections as federal employees, and supervisors must be able to take actions when needed.  The personnel of this security team must go through extensive background investigations.  The task of protecting the President needs to be compartmentalized.  Secret Service handles the personal protection missions, and the security team manages the physical integrity of the White House compound.

So, where do we find this security team?  Where do we find those highly trained individuals that have the background checks, the physical acumen, and the sense of duty to take on this most important task?

The answer is easy and fits all boxes.  Turn this mission over to the US Military.  Highly skilled, hand-picked, physical security specialists.  We have teams of these people in every branch.  Nuclear security, flight line security, and high-risk security teams all have the background and with clear guidelines and mission specific training the security and safety of the White House would be insured.

Jon Harris is an OpsLens contributor and former Army NCO, civilian law enforcement officer, and defense contractor with over 30 years in the law enforcement community. He holds a B.S. in Government and Politics and an M.S. in Criminal Justice.

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