Obama's Secret Service has become sloppy with its delusions of Hollywood grandeur

After a number of shocking security lapses, it's time the leader of the free world's safety was taken seriously

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The Independent Online

When intruders breach Buckingham Palace we almost admire their derring-do. You may recall Michael Fagan making it all the way to the Queen’s private bedroom and some clown dressed as Batman bravely scaling the façade. But these have been infrequent lapses. Fagan was over 30 years ago, Batman a decade ago.

What we are learning now about how the US Secret Service has been botching the protection of another head of state – one with slightly more consequence for his country in particular and the world in general – is downright disturbing however. The reaction at a Capitol Hill hearing on Tuesday was one of universal horror, regardless of party affiliation.

The agency’s director, Julia Pierson - who at least did the right thing and resigned tonight - had been hauled before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to explain how it was that almost two weeks ago, a disturbed Iraq War veteran named Omar Gonzalez managed to jump the White House fence and make it to the North Portico and through the (unlocked) front doors.

Some new wrinkles: Mr Gonzalez did not stop there but, with a knife, penetrated deep into the White House as far as the East Room, passing a stairwell leading directly to the private quarters of President Barack Obama – who had left with his daughters via Marine One to Camp David 10 minutes before. Only the work of a Washington Post reporter revealed the full extent of the breach. The Secret Service had omitted to tell us all this, keeping its secrets, secret.

Maybe Ms Pierson’s inability to evince much mortification had to with this other nugget she had up her sleeve: six people have jumped the White House fence this year already. Yes, six. There have been 16 in the past five years.

If the Secret Service has become sloppy, the best assumption is that it has to do with old-fashioned arrogance; they have so deeply bought into the Hollywood mythology about their own professionalism – their willingness to take a bullet – they can’t see their fallibility. The talk in their ranks today probably is that the politicians (and the media) who criticise them are fools.

 

And more has gone wrong than fence jumpers. We also learned this week that on a recent visit to the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, Mr Obama was allowed to ride in a lift with a contract security man who was carrying a revolver and the Secret Service didn’t know. What? And then there was the day in November 2011 when shots were fired at the White House from the avenue beyond the ellipse on its south side.

Once again, the gravity of that incident and the clottish response of the agency were never fully revealed until this week. And again we are indebted to The Washington Post. At first, a lead agent said it was vehicle backfiring nearby. Then it was suggested that the gunfire had come from warring gang members in the neighbourhood. One agent on duty tried to say the gunfire had been meant for the mansion but then went quiet for fear of being reprimanded.

It was four days later when a White House maid found broken glass and bits of plaster on the carpet that the Secret Service was forced to acknowledge the truth. Bullets had indeed struck the White House and its windows. While the President and First Lady happened to be away, one their daughters was inside at the time. Michelle Obama, who returned home first, reportedly hit the roof upon finding out. Why aren’t they taking proper care of us, she surely asked?

One idea: maybe build a higher fence.

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