October 31, 2014 | Issue Brief on Homeland Security
A series of alarming security breaches have caused many to question the Secret Service’s ability to protect the President. In the wake of these events, an independent four-member review panel—two senior officials each from the Bush and Obama Administrations—will investigate the Secret Service’s recent security breaches and advise the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) how to correct the Secret Service’s problems. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has asked the panel to also advise him on whether a larger investigation is warranted.
In the past several years, the number and seriousness of Secret Service security breaches have increased, drawing attention to an agency typically known for excellence.
November 2009. Husband and wife Tareq and Michaele Salahi attended a State Dinner at the White House and met with President Obama—despite the fact they were not on the guest list.
November 2011. A man with a semi-automatic rifle fired at the White House, with at least seven bullets hitting the building. While Secret Service agents initially rushed to respond with weapons drawn, they were told to stand down by their supervisors—who attributed the shooting sounds to vehicles backfiring. Some agents dispute this account while others remain silent “for fear of being criticized.” At the time, the President’s daughter Sasha was at home, and his other daughter Malia was expected home soon. Despite the fact that the shooter’s vehicle and gun were found within 10 minutes, an investigation was not initiated until a housekeeper noticed broken glass and bullet holes four days later.
April 2012. Secret Service agents who were part of President Barack Obama’s advance team to Cartagena, Columbia, engaged in sexual conduct with prostitutes.
May 2013. A Secret Service supervisor removed ammunition from his gun and left a bullet in a woman’s room at the Hay-Adams Hotel across the street from the White House and allegedly tried to force his way back in to the room to retrieve it. Further investigation reveals that this same supervisor and another Secret Service official sent sexual e-mails to a female subordinate, resulting in their suspension.
March 2014. Three Secret Service agents in Amsterdam were disciplined after a night of heavy drinking that left one agent passed out in a hotel hallway just one day before President Obama arrived.
September 2014. The Secret Service was unaware that an armed security contractor with a criminal record was on the same elevator as President Obama during a trip to Atlanta. Several days later, a fence jumper managed to run into the inner rooms of the White House before being taken down by an off-duty agent. Reportedly, the alarm system was turned off because it bothered White House staffers.
October 2014. New information surfaced about the 2012 prostitution scandal involving Secret Service agents in Columbia indicating that White House aides knew about the involvement with prostitutes but did not investigate, and possibly interfered with other investigations.
The Secret Service’s protection arm is responsible for security of top U.S. officials; the American people, as well as those being protected, expect the Secret Service to fulfill its duties with competence and professionalism. While the Secret Service has many brave and talented officers, multiple outrageous security breaches make clear that something is very wrong. The review panel should seek out the roots of these recent problems in order to ensure that the Secret Service is able to better fulfill its duties.—David Inserra is Research Associate for Homeland Security and Cybersecurity in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation. The author would like to thank Ellen Prichard, a participant in the Heritage Foundation Young Leaders Program, for her assistance in the production of this paper.
 Kevin Johnson, “Congress Grills Secret Service on White House breaches,” USA Today, September 30, 2014, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/09/30/secret-service-breach-hearings/16470265/ (accessed October 22, 2014).
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 David Nakamura, “Independent Panel Named in Secret Service Probe,” The Washington Post, October 10, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/10/10/independent-panel-named-in-secret-service-probe/ (accessed October 22, 2014).
 “Long List of Breaches and Scandals for Secret Service Under Obama,” NBC News, October 1, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/long-list-breaches-scandals-secret-service-under-obama-n215751 (accessed October 22, 2014).
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 Carol D. Leonnig, “The Night Bullets Hit the White House—and the Secret Service Didn’t Know,” The Washington Post, September 28, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/white-house-shooting/?Post+generic=%3Ftid%3Dsm_twitter_washingtonpost (accessed October 24, 2014).
 Michael Isikoff and Jim Miklaszewski, “NBC: Prostitute’s $50 Fee for Two Agents Triggered Secret Service Scandal,” NBC News, April 17, 2012, http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/04/17/11251326-nbc-prostitutes-50-fee-for-two-agents-triggered-secret-service-scandal?lite (accessed October 24, 2014).
 “2 Secret Service Supervisors Under Investigation in Misconduct Probe,” CNN, November 14, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/14/politics/secret-service-misconduct/ (accessed October 24, 2014), and Sebastian Payne, “A Shortlist of Recent Secret Service Scandals,” The Washington Post, October 1, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/10/01/a-shortlist-of-recent-secret-service-scandals/ (accessed October 30, 2014).
 Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura, “Secret Service Agents Sent Home from Netherlands Were Warned to AvoidTrouble,” The Washington Post, March 26, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/secret-service-agents-on-obama-detail-sent-home-from-netherlands-after-night-of-drinking/2014/03/26/86d1a8a6-b4e6-11e3-8020-b2d790b3c9e1_story.html (accessed October 24, 2014).
 Carol D. Leonnig, “Armed Contractor with Criminal Record Was on Elevator with Obama in Atlanta,” The Washington Post, September 30, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/armed-former-convict-was-on-elevator-with-obama-in-atlanta/2014/09/30/76d7da24-48e3-11e4-891d-713f052086a0_story.html (accessed October 29, 2014).
 Carol D. Leonnig, “White House Fence-Jumper Made it Far Deeper into Building Than Previously Known,” The Washington Post, September 29, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/white-house-fence-jumper-made-it-far-deeper-into-building-than-previously-known/2014/09/29/02efd53e-47ea-11e4-a046-120a8a855cca_story.html (accessed October 29, 2014).
 Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura, “Aides Knew of Possible White House Link to Cartagena, Colombia, Prostitution Scandal,” The Washington Post, October 8, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/aides-despite-denials-knew-of-white-house-tie-to-cartagena-prostitution-scandal/2014/10/08/5b98dc90-4e7e-11e4-aa5e-7153e466a02d_story.html (accessed October 29, 2014).
 Partnership for Public Service, The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, 2013 Ranking, “Agency Report: Secret Service (DHS),” http://bestplacestowork.org/BPTW/rankings/detail/HS14 (accessed October 22, 2014).
 Daniel Emmett, “A Retired Secret Service Agent Reveals the Agency’s Biggest Problem,” Vox, October 9, 2014, http://www.vox.com/2014/10/9/6946949/secret-service-911-homeland-security-treasury (accessed October 22, 2014).
 Dylan Matthews, “The Secret Service Scandals, Explained,” Vox, October 9, 2014, http://www.vox.com/2014/9/30/6870841/white-house-crasher-omar-gonzalez-secret-service-explained (accessed October 22, 2014).
 Leonnig and Nakamura, “Aides Knew of Possible White House Link to Cartagena, Colombia, Prostitution Scandal,” and Leonnig, “White House Fence-Jumper Made It Far Deeper into Building Than Previously Known.”