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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, OCT. 3, 2014
SECRETS ABOUT THE SECRET SERVICE AND THE OTHERS
BY BOB FRANKEN
So much for another elite mystique. Through the decades, the Secret Service has carefully cultivated its image as a force of superhumans providing an impenetrable wall around the president and others it is chartered to protect and make short work of all those who are a threat. Well, that wall suddenly is showing a lot of cracks, in spite of the best efforts of those at the top to try to hide them.
It’s not just that a disturbed guy was able to scale the fence and get onto the White House grounds; that happens all too frequently. And it’s not just that he (carrying a knife, by the way) was able to sprint right past befuddled protectors on the North Lawn, or even that he burst through a ridiculously unlocked front door, overpowered the lone guard and ran all the way to the East Room in the back. That’s past the steps that lead up to the Obama family living quarters (the president wasn’t there at the time). As mind boggling as that all was, it wasn’t the entire problem.
Perhaps worst of all was the way that Secret Service management ordered deceptive public statements trying to minimize what happened. Were it not for the reporting of The Washington Post, we wouldn’t have known the full extent of this praetorian collapse. Effectively, the leadership was being dishonest, in the same way it was in downplaying its botched response to an assailant with a sniper rifle who fired several times at a part of the executive mansion reserved for the first family’s use. In that case, it took agents four days to determine that shots were even fired -- thanks not to any of them, but to a housekeeper who spotted bullet holes.
We’re told that the president and first lady had a hissy fit with the Secret Service director at the time, Mark Sullivan, and who could blame them? But when I say “we’re told,” that’s only happening now thanks to The Washington Post again going behind the official subterfuge.
Meanwhile, Sullivan’s successor, Julia Pierson, was getting her own chewing out at the hands of Congress for the latest foul-up. About the only response she could muster was the time-dishonored “mistakes were made” defense, which has been in disrepute at least since Watergate.
Her hearing was conducted before we learned astonishing details of the president’s Sept. 16 appearance at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta. He and his protective detail were on an elevator with a private security guard who kept trying to take pictures. Turns out the security guard had a violent criminal record, and, oh yeah, they found out he was armed.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Pierson resigned the next day. Meanwhile, this embarrassment unfolded as another self-styled sacred cow was being gored. On “60 Minutes,” Mr. Obama was giving his take on why everyone was so surprised by the sudden success of ISIL, or whatever you want to call the Muslim extremists who have swept through Syria and Iraq: “I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.” Whether it was the intelligence apparatus that dropped the ball or the administration that wasn’t listening, the irrefutable fact is that our national-security team blew it. These are the same people who hide behind secrecy whenever they’re challenged and who are trying to imprison Edward Snowden for revealing their massive cyber-spying. Perhaps they were paying too much attention to our private lives to notice ISIL.
The point is, the people who present themselves as the top-flight of our public servants have been brought back to earth. It’s a good thing, because for a long time, we’ve been buying into their PR. We need to demand that they play it straight with us or lose their jobs. That’s basic to a democracy.
© 2014 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.