Secret Service in Crisis
Major breach of White House grounds, copy-cat week later follow several years of agency scandal
Back-to-back fence-climbing attempts at the White House, including one that allowed an intruder to roam free for over 15 minutes on the grounds, are fresh evidence of an ongoing crisis of leadership and capability at the U.S. Secret Service, according to oversight officials and at least one former agent.
“The Secret Service cannot even keep one person off the grounds — what will they do if 40 terrorists charge the White House?” former Secret Service Agent Dan Bongino said Friday on Fox News. “And believe me, the terrorists are already thinking about that.”
“It makes no sense, and I don’t know what in the world they’re doing, but it is a total and complete embarrassment.”
Jonathan Tran scaled a White House fence carrying two cans of mace on March 10, entered the grounds, and roamed free for 17 minutes before being found and apprehended by Secret Service agents. President Donald Trump was inside at the time.
According to the agency’s own statement issued Friday, “the men and women of the Secret Service are extremely disappointed and angry in how the events of March 10th transpired.”
“Immediate steps have been taken to mitigate lapses in security protocols even as the investigation continues,” the statement added. “These steps include additional posts, technology enhancements, and response protocols.”
But how could the Secret Service allow Tran to scale that fence? House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told CNN’s “The Situation Room” Friday that Tran was close enough to the White House to “rattle the door handle.”
“[Homeland Security] Secretary [John] Kelly told me that this person was there on the ground for 17 minutes, went undetected, was able to get up next to the White House, hide behind a pillar, look through a window, rattle the door handle,” Chaffetz said. “This one scares me probably more than any because of the length of time, the proximity to the president, getting right up close to the White House and going so long without being detected … It makes no sense, and I don’t know what in the world they’re doing, but it is a total and complete embarrassment.”
Although the March 10 incident proved to be the first major security breach to occur on the agency’s watch during the Trump administration, it follows a string of breaches during Obama’s presidency.
In April 2012, eight Secret Service agents were fired after soliciting prostitutes while on duty serving in the president’s detail in Colombia. In November 2011, a man who parked outside of the White House and was armed with a semiautomatic rifle fired it at the building while Sasha Obama was inside and Malia Obama was en route.
2014 proved to be a bad year for the Secret Service, with three major security lapses. In March of that year, three agents were suspended after they violated Secret Service rules and spent a night drinking during a trip accompanying Obama in Amsterdam. The three agents were members of the counter-assault team tasked with protecting the president as part of his last line of defense.
In September 2014, a lapse allowed an armed security contractor with an assault record to enter an elevator with Obama in Atlanta.
Just three days later, an Iraq War veteran armed with a knife scaled the White House fence, entered through the North Portico doors and made it to the East Room before an off-duty Secret Service agent tackled him. At that time, the security alarm in the building had been disabled because some staff members complained about the noise, The Washington Post reported. The Obama family was inside the White House during that incident.
In the aftermath of these scandals, Julia Pierson, the first female director of the U.S. Secret Service, resigned on Oct. 1, 2014.
"We don't know whether [the door] was locked. The intruder did not get into the White House. But to be able to touch the White House, come on," Chaffetz said of the March 10 incident, adding that he sent a letter Friday to Secret Service Acting Director William Callahan calling for an investigation into the incident, which he said raised questions "about whether the agency's security protocols are adequate."
Saying that "the president is not safe in the White House," Bongino insisted the White House security plan "is crap."
"The management is terrible at Secret Service. The men and women are great — the rank-and-file men and women, believe me when I tell you, know exactly what needs to be done. But they're being stopped by a sclerotic bunch of dinosaur managers who just can't get out of the way," Bongino said. "They literally cannot get out of their own way. I mean, they're screwing this whole thing up."
"If the Secret Service doesn't clean house at the management level after this, I don't know — I mean, what are you waiting to happen?" Bongino asked. "I mean, I'm really hoping and praying right now that everything I just told you about the security plan at the White House that's just not sufficient — I'm hoping all of this is laughed at in years because they go and they fix the security plan."