US Secret Service stretched 'beyond its limits,' says review panel

Review ordered after incident in September when an Iraq veteran jumped the perimeter fence of the White House and gained access to the presidential mansion

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The Independent US

The Secret Service, the elite group of agents tasked with protecting the President of the United States and other top government officials, is stretched “beyond its limits” and needs new personnel, additional training and someone to lead it who comes from the outside, an independent panel has said.

The review of the agency was ordered by the US Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, in the aftermath of an incident in September when an Iraq veteran jumped the perimeter of the White House, sprinted across its north lawn and made it all the way inside the mansion before being stopped.

Few will be entirely surprised, therefore, that the four-person panel included among its recommendations building a new fence around the executive mansion, preferably at least four or five feet higher than the one that is there now to at least slow down anyone determined to get inside the grounds.

But the problems were said to go far beyond the size of the fence.  Indeed, the report implies that it is time for the agency, storied for the willingness of its agents to take a bullet for its wards, to get over itself. “The panel heard one common critique from those inside and outside the Service: The Service is too insular,” the published summary said.

A first step, it says, will be to appoint a new leader who has had no history with the agency and therefore no truck with its in-house traditions or favourites among its ranks. At the time of the September incident, which caused widespread outrage even though President Barack Obama was travelling, the Secret Service was led by Julia Pierson, a 30-year veteran.

Ms Pierson, who took over as director after a 2012 scandal involving agents inviting prostitutes to their hotel rooms on a pre-summit scouting visit to Cartagena, Columbia, resigned on 1 October after giving a dismal performance at a Congressional hearing on what had happened to allow the ex-soldier to penetrate the president’s home and even get as far as the ceremonial East Room.

But the report also argues that it is time to beef up the agency with at least 200 new uniformed agents and 85 new special agents. It also asks for more rigorous training. “The Secret Service is stretched to and, in many cases, beyond its limits,” the panel said.

The full version of the report, which may draw scepticism from some Republicans in Congress wary of the extra costs implied by the recommendations, has not yet been released.  But it was strongly supported by Mr Johnson.

“The panel's recommendations are astute, thorough and fair,” he said in a statement.