SHAFAQNA – Sweeping reforms are needed to bring the US Secret Service back to a standard required to protect the president properly, an expert on White House security said yesterday. The organisation is reeling from the humiliating breach in securitywhich forced the resignation of the agency chief, Julia Pierson, this week.
Americans were appalled at the news that an intruder with a knife was able to leap over a fence, cross an extensive lawn, burst through the open door and run through the White House before finally being brought down — but the author Jeffrey Robinson said yesterday that standards had been sliding for more than a decade.
Mr Robinson, author of Standing Next To History, an inside account of an agent’s life guarding Ronald Reagan, said the rot had set in after 9/11, when George W Bush removed the service from the oversight of the US Treasury. It was put into the new Department of Homeland Security, alongside everything from the coastguard to disaster relief, border controls and immigration — “a terrible mishmash, an awful morass of nonsense”, Mr Robinson said.
The White House, always on the lookout for photo opportunities for the president, had compromised security, he said — an example of which was the risky stunt in 2003 when Mr Bush was flown on to an aircraft carrier in a fixed-wing jet to make his “mission accomplished” speech.
Last year, President Obama appeared before a huge crowd during the Martin Luther King memorial celebrations at the Lincoln Memorial — without a Secret Service agent within 30ft of him. “He’s got his back to 50,000 people, any one of whom could have a long-distance rifle,” Mr Robinson said.
A new, taller fence was taking shape outside the White House yesterday, but it will require more than an extra foot of metal railings to protect the service from criticism.
Ms Pierson quit when full details of the intrusion at the White House were compounded by revelations that, days earlier, a man with a criminal record and armed with a gun managed to share a lift with Mr Obama in Atlanta.
“She deserved to get fired, because she failed, she put the president’s life at risk, she forgot to lock the front door. The guy in the elevator in Atlanta — that’s inexplicable. How in the world could that possibly happen? It’s a hanging offence.”
Joe Clancy, a former head of the presidential protection division of the Secret Service, has been brought out of retirement to steady the ship.
Mr Robinson said the only solution was for the Secret Service to be taken back into the Treasury, “where there is real oversight, and it is not treated as a neglected old aunt in the attic”.