Thursday, October 2, 2014

The U.S. Secret Service

I live in a metropolitan area that has an office of the U.S. Secret Service.  Most of the time, no one would know they were here.  However, when someone who's on their list of protectees visits, they seem to come from everywhere.  We have grumbled about the traffic snarls, the blocked streets, the security secrecy.  The Secret Service was doing its job.

Any agency or intelligence unit is only as good as the information it collects.  Because we're talking about humans, here, we can also expect imperfection and mistakes.  Members of the Secret Service have made some massive mistakes in the past.  The question is not how do we punish them so the mistakes won't happen again?  No, the real question everyone needs to be asking the Secret Service is: what have you learned  from these massive mistakes?

One lesson might be this: complacency creates the conditions for mistakes to be made. 

As in any security job, long periods of time pass with absolutely nothing happening.  These periods can lead to the belief that nothing will ever happen.  The mere presence of security is enough to deter any threats.  Well, how'd that work for you, Secret Service?

President Obama with Secret Service Detail

Things happen when least expected.  But there are conditions in which the likelihood of a threat increases.  While I'm certain the Secret Service monitors all communications addressed to the President and his family, they need to pay attention also to the general political discourse.  Right now, I'd say that it is inflammatory and a breeding ground for all sorts of threats. 

But what do I know?  I'm not a Secret Service agent, trained and experienced.  But isn't some of this common sense?  I think that's what makes the recent breach at the White House so incredible.  The Secret Service saw the guy but were slow to respond.  Who'd they think he was and what he was doing, eh?

Recent incidents have tarnished the U. S. Secret Service's record.  True.  On the other hand, how often do these massive mistakes happen?  In the October 6, 2014 issue of Time magazine, I found a list:
  • Feb. 1974 -- an Army private stole a helicopter and flew it onto the White House grounds.
  • Dec. 1974 -- a man used his car to crash through the wrought-iron White House gates and drive up to the North Portico of the White House.
  • Sept. 1994 -- a man stole a Cessna airplane and crashed it on the South Lawn of the White House.  He died in the crash.
  • Nov. 2011 -- a man fired a semi-automatic rifle at the White House, hitting several spots.
  • Sept. 2014 -- a man jumped the fence and made it all the way into the White House through the unlocked front door.  He was armed with a knife.
These incidents are not happening every week.  While I believe the Secret Service needs to reassess its operating procedures and the role of complacency in recent incidents to learn from its mistakes, I don't think the Secret Service should be thrown out with the bathwater.

The White House (north side)

I often wonder how much of the hysteria that arises around such things is created and nurtured in order to deflect attention away from something else.  Is there something important we really need to be paying more attention to instead?

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