Julia Pierson resigns: US Secret Service director makes 'painful' decision to quit over security failures

An armed Iraq War veteran gaining access to the Presidential mansion was the final straw

Click to follow
The Independent US

The director of the US Secret Service is to resign in the wake of several embarrassing security failures by the once-legendary agency. The Department of Homeland Security announced today that Julia Pierson would step down from the role, following a grilling by lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, over the lapses in White House security that allowed a man armed with a knife to run deep into the Presidential mansion.

Facing a committee of representatives from both parties, Ms Pierson admitted that agents neglected several security protocols when, on 19 September, Iraq War veteran Omar Gonzalez, 42, vaulted the White House fence, sprinting across the lawn and into the building through an unlocked door. He overpowered one Secret Service agent before finally being tackled in a reception room.

On Tuesday the Secret Service also admitted that on 16 September, an armed man with three prior convictions for assault had been allowed to enter an elevator with President Barack Obama at an event in Atlanta. Speaking to Bloomberg News, Ms Pierson said it was “painful to leave”, but “Congress has lost confidence in my ability to run the agency.” 

Ms Pierson, 55, was appointed by Mr Obama in 2013 as the first woman ever to lead the US Secret Service. She was charged at the time with rehabilitating its public image after a string of scandals involving security breaches and bad behaviour by its agents, whose core responsibility is to protect the President and other VIPs.

In 2011 the agency was faulted for its inadequate response to a shooting incident at the White House, when a man fired several shots at the building, with one bullet breaking a window in the first family’s residence. The Obamas were not at home at the time. The following year, reports surfaced of excessive drinking and prostitutes being entertained in agents’ hotel rooms during a presidential visit to Cartagena, Colombia, for a regional summit.

The lapses are especially pertinent, given that President Obama has faced three times as many threats as any previous President, according to a recent report by the Washington Post.

Homeland Security officials said Ms Pierson would be replaced by retired Secret Service agent Joseph Clancy. Mr Clancy was reportedly running the Presidential detail on the night in 2009 when an attention-seeking couple, keen to appear on reality series The Real Housewives of DC, made their way past Secret Service checkpoints into the President’s very first state dinner, despite not being on the guest list.