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Protecting the President

Last week, a couple took advantage of an opportunity to enter an invitation-only event. What made the event more significant than the incident of the moment, was that the couple made direct contact with the President of the United States, Barack Obama, without screening or interception by the Secret Service. The event is being played down in the media as a no-harm-no-foul situation, although Congress is investigating the Secret Service on the matter. Unfortunately, the Secret Service is severely handicapped in its role, and this incident demonstrates a critical flaw in the system.

Prior to 1865, there was no specific protection service arranged for the President of the United States. The Secret Service had been created to counter counterfeiting (a role it still performs today) and protection of the President was largely left to his own resources and preferences; the assassination of President Lincoln spurred legislation to protect the President. The assassinations of Presidents Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy, however, along with a number of attempts on other Presidents (the Secret Service attempts to restrict knowledge of attempts, in order to avoid providing information to potential conspirators) has shown how difficult it can be for the Secret Service to do its job. And while some critics have blamed the agents for failure to protect the President, such objections ignore not only the training and commitment of the Secret Service, but also the evolution and unknown parameters of threats to the President, as well as the personal behavior of the President himself. As a rule, the President is a political animal, who needs public attention as much as he needs food and air, and to that end he will resist the efforts of the Secret Service which, as he perceives it, restrict his access to the media and the public, and those which damage his appearance of approachability.

That is the case here, I think. Barack Obama is inexperienced in politics, despite his comfort with the role. His whole political experience rests on direct contact with leaders and network development. As a result, Mr. Obama has been to and hosted more parties than any President in recent memory. At a time when George W Bush had to plan how to respond to 9/11, President Obama's focus is how to spin the appearance of success in a nation with double-digit unemployment and record budget deficits resulting from a clearly-failed spending plan. As a result, anyone in a tuxedo or formal dress is counted a friend, not because of their credentials or intentions, but because they support his image. The Secret Service is, in essence, told not to get in the way of the President when he wants to do his thing. And this is not all that new in the historical record. Bill Clinton was notorious for simply leaving the protection of the Secret Service when he felt like it, and President Ford also had a habit of disappearing from time to time. Regardless of politics, Presidents do not often consider the jobs their protectors have to do; W and Reagan are unusual in that regard, which turned out to be doubly fortunate in the course of events.

Facing the prospect of daily risk of assassination is something that can hardly be easy to comprehend. Even a soldier facing war conditions knows he is not the specific target of the enemy, and he can arm himself and act in self-defense; the President is the specific target of countless enemies, and what's worse, he must trust the skills and performance of others to defend him. Barack Obama is no more guilty of misusing the Secret Service than any other politician in what happened last week, but it is very much in his interest to protect himself by listening to his detail about their needs in protecting him.


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Comments (20)

It also helps to have a ver... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

It also helps to have a verified guest list. But when you're too busy GOING to the party, it's hard to remember YOUR JOB was to provide a list of those attending.

Besides, all those POLITICAL ELITE in Washington know that Secret Service agents are a pain in the ass, and will deliberately keep you out in the rain. They are just drones, to be ignored.

Unfortunately, the... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Unfortunately, the Secret Service is severely handicapped in its role, and this incident demonstrates a critical flaw in the system.

The Salahis did the nation a great service by demonstrating beyond dispute that there's a critical flaw in White House security. Obviously, it's the kind of security test the government wants to discourage, but once done, the value of it should be recognized. Likely, the Secret Service will get whatever money, manpower, training or White House staff involvement that it was lacking because of the Salahis, and that's a good thing. I'm for giving the Salahis some leeway. If Obama had a sense of humor he would actually invite the Salahis to the next state dinner. Then again, he might have to go out to the gate to convince the Secret Service to let them in.

I always have concerns abou... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

I always have concerns about the security situation myself as well because of the added menace of worldwide terrorism. But it seems like the lone screwball is always the most likely to cause harm.

To think that John Hinckley screwball could get so close to wound four people outside the Washington Hilton including press secretary Brady and President Reagan in 1981 still makes me very angry. Fortunately, security has seriously tightened since the days of Lincoln where his security officer actually left the theater to drink at the bar across the street and allowed John Wilkes Booth a too easy opportunity to cause harm.

Let us spell it out: The Se... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Let us spell it out: The Secret Service was told by someone in the White House to stand down. Now they are being used as scapegoats. We will have to wait for a future book to find out the truth. As usual, the left squashes the least favored.

I can't quite remember the ... (Below threshold)
Victory is Mao's:

I can't quite remember the word that describes a conservative who speculates about the assassination of Barak Obama, America's first black president. It's just on the tip of my tongue. Wait, now I remember.

RACIST.

They went through the metal... (Below threshold)
Tom:

They went through the metal detector so they were no more dangerous than the rest of those half baked liberals, anyone of the could have snapped at the dinner.

Still fire Desiree Rogers for her total incompetence.....

Hey, VicI wonder h... (Below threshold)
sue:

Hey, Vic

I wonder how many people are saying that they will never vote for a liberal black man or woman again for the office of President because they know from experience liberals will call everyone who has a difference of opinion a racist again and again?

It resonates with me and I'm sure it does so with many other people. We're only 1 year into a 4 year term. Just think how many people liberals will alienate by then with all their accusations of racism.

I don't like it, but liberals will have brought it on themselves.

You could say I'm racist against racism.

This President needs no pro... (Below threshold)
twolaneflash:

This President needs no protection. First, no one who hates his policies wants to see the idiot made a martyr. Second, the chain of succession is so unimaginably horrible as to provide a bubble of safety around him. President Biden? President Pelosi? President Clinton? No, The Zero is safe as he can be. We can survive three years of him, but then he and his cronies have got to go.

Sue, this is old news. It h... (Below threshold)
Victory is Mao's:

Sue, this is old news. It has all been well debunked many times before. Even if there is any particle of truth there, that doesn't change anything. The consensus is settled. We won, you lost, get used to it. This is Mao's Century. Our hippie sandals and unwashed feet will be on your necks grinding your faces into the filth for many, many years to come.

Peace.

I think I should point out ... (Below threshold)
Dr Carlo Lombardi:

I think I should point out to other commenters that "Victory is Mao's " is a parody poster skewering "Victory is Ours" and other lefty trolls.

It resonates with ... (Below threshold)
Victory is Ours:
It resonates with me and I'm sure it does so with many other people. We're only 1 year into a 4 year term. Just think how many people liberals will alienate by then with all their accusations of racism.

Oh yes, I'm sure many, many people choose a presidential candidate based on their opinion about the people who support that candidate.

Wise voters interested in the good stewardship of this nation would choose McCain over Obama simply because liberals call racist conservatives "racist"...

Well, the simple ones will anyway.

Vic

Oh yes, I'm sure many, m... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

Oh yes, I'm sure many, many people choose a presidential candidate based on their opinion about the people who support that candidate.

Ron Paul comes to mind. The folks who were spamming every damn board they could get on about how wonderful Paul was got me to the point I wouldn't have voted for the man if he paid me. And it seems like the more they were reviled by the people they were spamming, the more they did it.

Until his run collapsed.

By the way, Vic - insulting people is an almost CERTAIN way to NOT win their support. But you know that, don't you?

Doing your research as alwa... (Below threshold)
Jake:

Doing your research as always, DJ!

I was with you (as I am many times) until you get to your summation ("Obama sucks!"). The Secret Service has dual and very, very different charges. While they continue to focus on both, they do harm to both. This is ESPECIALLY true of the protection role, primarily because (as you point out) they keep their successes secret. This means that when it comes time to budget setting, they need big things to show off their skills... thus the reason they've clung to the treasury work.

Couple that with a significantly underfunded SS protection budget, where fire teams have been reduced from 5 to 2, and where the SS leadership hasn't had the cojones to reject requests from political staffs to lighten up or to push details back further away and you have a recipe for disaster.

Political folks are ALWAYS going to ask for SS to draw further back, to allow bigger crowds in, to push the protection vs. access boundaries as far back as possible. It's a balance, to be sure, and NOBODY except the SS leadership is responsible for the breaking or alteration of protocol. Just because you, me, a candidate, or a president asks for protocols to be set aside doesn't mean the SS has to do it. Saying Desiree Rogers is at all responsible for a gross violation of the President's safety is almost as ridiculous (someone said above), this President doesn't need protection at all.

I do agree though that we're having a conversation about the reality that a dual function, underfunded, understaffed, undertrained SS is going to let very very basic flaws happen, and that's a good thing.

Has anyone thought about th... (Below threshold)
ac:

Has anyone thought about the safety of The Indian PM? What would the ramifications of an attempt on the life of any visiting dignitary that was the result of sloppy security and/or an idiotic "open door" policy of an incompetent social secretary? Of course with the Obamas it's all about them. Who cares about the safety of their guests? I doubt Pres. 0 or Ms Rogers even gave a moments thought to that issue.

Other bloggers have shown p... (Below threshold)
Ruth H:

Other bloggers have shown photos and pointed out that Obama actually knew these people and had appeared with, and attended at least one event with them. I think the secret service are the scapegoats here, someone gave a nod and wink and let those people in.

Ruth, either they were or w... (Below threshold)
Jake:

Ruth, either they were or were NOT on the guest list and therefore the SS either did or DID NOT or DID screw up. Just because Obama met someone once doesn't mean that they're not a potential safety risk.

SS aren't being "scapegoats" here - the buck absolutely stops with them. Therefore breaches are absolutely their responsibility.

#8 got it exactly right.</... (Below threshold)
MF:

#8 got it exactly right.

"Wise voters interested ... (Below threshold)
914:

"Wise voters interested in the good stewardship of this nation would choose McCain over Obama simply because liberals call racist conservatives "racist"...

Well, the simple ones will anyway.

Vic"

Good job simpleton!

At least the liberal lie of... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

At least the liberal lie of death threats against Obama is up 400%. The left loves lying. ww

"At least the liberal li... (Below threshold)
914:

"At least the liberal lie of death threats against Obama is up 400%. The left loves lying. ww"

And I thought Clinton had the patent on lying? Guess He paid some taxes once in a while.




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