Each time we witness a disaster or a scandal of one kind or another, especially those involving politicians or government agencies, we find Monday morning quarterbacks pounding the table, shouting, “Somebody do something!” That is certainly true of the latest mini-scandal involving the once-vaunted Secret Service, a government agency with a long and storied history of service to the nation… until recent years, of course.
On November 24, 2009, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, of Warren County, Virginia, crashed a black tie event at the White House honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singhon. Although they were uninvited, the Salahis passed through two Secret Service’s checkpoints, one of which required guests to provide photo IDs which were then checked against a list of invited guests. Their gate-crash set off a firestorm of criticism of the Secret Service protective detail.
On April 14–15, 2012, the sixth Summit of the Americas was held at Cartagena, Colombia. However, the misbehavior of Secret Service agents and U.S. military personnel, members of the presidential advance party, overshadowed the event. In the days that followed, it was learned that some twenty Colombian prostitutes were suspected of having spent the night with Secret Service agents and U.S. military personnel at the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena. The episode first came to light when one of the prostitutes complained that, even though she had upheld her end of the bargain, she had been inadequately compensated by one of the agents. The central theme of the summit was, appropriately enough, “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity.”
On December 10, 2013, as Barack Obama spoke at a memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela, a fake sign-language interpreter joined Obama on stage, standing just feet to his left. The impostor, Thamsanqa Jantjie, later told the Johannesburg Star that while he was on stage with Obama he heard strange voices and began to hallucinate, causing him to make signing gestures that were pure gibberish. Obama’s unintelligible remarks left bewildered deaf viewers around the world scratching their heads and wondering, “What the hell did he just say?”
On March 23, 2014, three Secret Service agents were recalled from the Netherlands after one of the agents was found passed out drunk in the hallway of his hotel. The agents were part of an advance team sent to the Netherlands in preparation for Obama’s upcoming visit to The Hague. According to a story in the Washington Post, the three agents were members of the elite Counter Assault Team (CAT). If the president or his motorcade is ever under attack, the CAT’s job is to draw fire, providing an opportunity for Obama and others in his party to escape unharmed. One of the three agents recalled was a CAT “team leader.”
On September 16, 2014, Obama visited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta to receive a briefing on the Ebola crisis in Africa. What he and his protective detail apparently did not know was that a local security guard, armed with a concealed handgun, rode on an elevator elbow-to-elbow with Obama, totally unaware of the security breach.
On September 19, 2014, just three days later, a mentally-disturbed veteran, Omar J. Gonzalez, climbed the White House fence on Pennsylvania Avenue, sprinted across the lawn, entered the double doors on the north portico, and rushed into the mansion. Armed with a folding knife with a 2½ inch blade, Gonzales was well inside the White House, in the hallway leading to the East Room, when he was tackled by an off-duty Secret Service agent.
On March 12, 2015, two senior Secret Service agents, including a senior member of Barack Obama’s protective detail, crashed a car into a barricade at the southeast entrance to the White House following a late-night retirement party for Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan. It was immediately suspected that the agents were under the influence of alcohol. However, a report in the Washington Post tells us that the agents were allowed to leave the scene after a supervisor overruled uniformed officers who wanted to arrest the agents and conduct sobriety tests.
The two agents, who were on their way home from the retirement party, were responding to a radio report saying that an active bomb investigation was underway on the White House grounds. It was reported that, shortly before the agents crashed their car into the crime scene barricade, a woman had thrown a package at the security gate, shouting, “It’s a bomb!” When the intoxicated agents careened onto the scene they reportedly ran their vehicle over the suspect package. Fortunately, it contained a book, not a bomb. To the best of our knowledge, the book was not a copy of Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father.
Contrast these uncharacteristic “Keystone Cops” foul-ups by the Secret Service to the conduct of the well-turned-out Marines who stand guard at the White House and at embassies around the globe. A Marine Corps website tell us, “Missions have changed over the years, but what has remained constant since November 10, 1775 is our unyielding commitment to protecting the lives of our citizens and the interests of our nation.” The website goes on to say, “Honor requires each Marine to exemplify the ultimate standard in ethical and moral conduct… And, above all, honor mandates that a Marine never sully the reputation of the Corps.”
However, when one begins to contrast Marine Corps conduct with Secret Service lapses during the Obama era, it comes down to a question of constancy. And while Secret Service personnel know as well as the Marines that Barack Obama is ineligible to serve in the office he holds, and that he is totally incompetent as our commander in chief, there is a difference. While the young Marines, who dutifully salute as Obama steps down from Marine One on the south lawn of the White House, have 240 years of exemplary Marine Corps tradition to sustain them, the same is not true of the men and women of the Secret Service. Although their duties and their obligation to the security of our nation’s leaders remain the same, the level of respect they hold for presidents and first ladies undergoes a major transformation every four years.
In his book, In The President’s Secret Service, former agent Ronald Kessler provides insights into the presidents and first ladies of the modern era. Having interviewed dozens of agents, past and present, Kessler tells us that “Gerald Ford was a true gentleman who treated the Secret Service with respect and dignity. Agents found Ford to be a ‘decent man who valued their service.’ ”
He describes Jimmy Carter as being “a complete phony who had disdain for the Secret Service and was very irresponsible with the ‘football’ nuclear codes… a ‘moody and mistrustful’ person who distanced himself from the agents who were sworn to protect him and his family.”
He describes Ronald Reagan as “moral, honest, respectful, and dignified. The Reagans treated (the) Secret Service and everyone else with respect and honor. Nancy Reagan was very nice but very protective of the President… he treated the Secret Service agents, the Air Force One Crew, and the staff of maids and butlers at the White House with respect.”
“George H.W. Bush was extremely kind, considerate and always respectful towards Secret Service agents. The Bushes took great care in making sure the agents’ comforts were taken care of and even brought them meals.”
Kessler writes that, “Bill Clinton’s term in office was one giant party; he was not trustworthy, (he was) adulterous, and was only nice because he wanted everyone to like him. Hillary Clinton was another phony whose personality would change the instant cameras were near. She hated with open disdain the military and (the) Secret Service.”
“George and Laura Bush were loved by the Secret Service… The Bushes made sure their entire administrative and household staff understood to respect and be considerate of the Secret Service. Laura Bush was one of the nicest First Ladies, if not the nicest…”
From interviews with current agents, Kessler writes, “Barack and Michelle Obama look down on the Secret Service and hate the military. He is egotistical, cunning, and untrustworthy, and has temper tantrums. Michelle… hates anybody who is not black, hates the military, and looks at the Secret Service as servants.”
What is immediately evident is that the last four Republicans presidents are described by the men and women who protect them as being “considerate,” “decent,” “dignified,” “honest,” “kind,” “moral,” and “respectful,” while adjectives used to describe the last three Democratic presidents include “adulterous,” “cunning,” “hateful,” “disdainful,” “egotistical,” “elitist,” “irresponsible,” “moody,” “phony,” “temperamental,” “untrusting.” and “untrustworthy.” What it tells us is what we’ve always known, which is that, compared to Republicans, Democrats are, in every respect, an entirely different “breed of cat.”
So let’s not overreact to an occasional Secret Service hiccup. It is understandable that agents may not be at the top of their game when they’re called upon to lay their lives on the line for men and women who fail to command their respect. What they suffer from and what makes their jobs so difficult is, more than anything else, a lack of constancy in the personal characteristics and the worthiness of those they protect.
Once the Obamas have packed up and left the White House on January 20, 2017, whether willingly or in handcuffs, the Secret Service will quickly regain its honored and well-deserved reputation. In the meantime, until we can get the next Republican family moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, let’s keep our hands off the Secret Service. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.