- - Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With the selection of Acting Secret Service Director Joseph P. Clancy as the director, President Obama has guaranteed that the agency will continue to lurch from one shocking security failure to another.

A veteran agent who had run Obama’s protective detail before leaving for a job in private industry, Clancy earned Obama’s trust. But Obama is blind to the fact that Clancy represents everything wrong with the agency. Already he has appointed top officials who can be counted on to continue the agency’s lax culture and cover-up mentality.

Clancy demonstrated that he is the wrong man for the job when he obfuscated at a House Judiciary Committee hearing when asked whether anyone would be held accountable for making false statements to the press about Omar J. Gonzalez’s dramatic intrusion into the White House last September. Even though the Secret Service knew instantly that Gonzalez had penetrated the White House and was armed with a knife, Clancy never batted an eye when he insisted that the Secret Service did not intentionally issue the false information. Yet when asked how he knew the lies were not intentional, Clancy admitted he had no idea how or why the false statements were made.

Equally shocking, Clancy insisted that, as part of what is called Operation Moonlight, diverting agents from the Prowler team at the White House to instead protect Director Mark Sullivan’s assistant at her home in Maryland thirty miles southeast of Washington did not compromise the security of Obama and his family.

The Prowler team responds to threats at the White House and watches for snipers as the president’s helicopter Marine One lifts off. But to support his point, Clancy said a Department of Homeland Security inspector general report quoted Secret Service officials as saying that withdrawing the assets from protecting the president did not affect the president’s security, an absurd claim on its face. Clancy neglected to mention the report’s conclusion that while protecting Sullivan’s assistant, the Prowler team “would have been unable to respond to emergencies at the White House.” And while acknowledging that Secret Service officers were tired from having to work overtime hours without days off, Clancy still maintained that the agency’s staffing levels were adequate.

Clancy’s less than forthright testimony made him a poster child for what is wrong with the Secret Service and its cover-up culture and why an outside director was needed to reform it. Yet his simpering, bowing-and-scraping style seemed to win over most of the members of the committee.

If Clancy easily bamboozled the congressional committee, he did not succeed in pulling the wool over the eyes of the all-star panel appointed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to recommend a new Secret Service director and improvements to White House security. The panel consisted of Mark Filip, a former deputy attorney general under President Bush and a former U.S. District Court judge; Danielle C. Gray, a former cabinet affairs secretary and assistant to the president under President Obama; Joseph W. Hagin, a former White House deputy chief of staff for operations under President Bush; and Thomas J. Perrelli, a former associate attorney general under President Obama.

In its devastating report, the panel said that the Secret Service is “starved for leadership that rewards innovation and excellence and demands accountability.” As I concluded in my book The First Family Detail, the panel said that only a strong new director from outside the agency, removed from organizational traditions and personal relationships, would be able to do the “honest top-to-bottom reassessment this will require” to change the agency’s culture.

With much fanfare in the press, Clancy already has pushed out several top managers. But what has not been reported is that many of the new appointees come from the same culture that punishes agents who report problems or threats and rewards obsequious agents who pretend that the Secret Service is invincible. Clancy is re-arranging chairs on the Titanic.

By ignoring the panel’s chief recommendation, Obama has made a strategic blunder, one that compounds his refusal to fire then Secret Service Director Sullivan after Secret Service uniformed officers back in November 2009 allowed Michaele and Tareq Salahi and a third intruder, Carlos Allen, into the White House state dinner even though they were not on the guest list.

As I wrote in a May 2, 2012 Washington Post op-ed, “So far, the biggest scandal in the history of the Secret Service involves agents hiring prostitutes in Colombia. But the media have largely ignored a much bigger scandal at the agency: a lax management culture that condones cutting corners, directly endangering the life of the president.”

An assassination nullifies democracy. By ignoring the panel’s number one recommendation, Obama has done a disservice not only to himself but to the country.

Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.

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