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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Secret Service Scandal: Federal Law Enforcement's Embarrassments and Foul-Ups

     In recent years there have been foul-ups and crimes involving agents with the FBI, ATF, ICE, DEA, and Border Patrol. Federal agents have shot each other, murdered civilians, blown cases, engineered cover-ups, stolen government money and property, taken bribes, invaded privacy, committed perjury, and behaved in conduct unbefitting law enforcement officers. Federal law enforcement in this country is becoming a national disgrace.


     Historian Kevin Baker, in the April 1, 2012 issue of The New York Times Book Review, writes about Tim Weiner's new book, Enemies: A History of the FBI. The following are passages from Baker's review:

     "[Author Tim] Weiner lays bare a record of embarrassing, even stunning failure, in which the bureaus' lawlessness was matched only by its incompetence....Botched confrontations with cults and right-wing radicals left a trail of blood from Whidbey Island to Ruby Ridge to the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco. The bureau was penetrated again and again by double agents from Russia, China, Cuba, and even Al Qaeda....FBI turncoats like Robert Hanssen and Earl Pitts went undetected for years, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, and the lives of a 'dozen or more foreign agents who worked for the bureau and the CIA.'...

     "The best terror informant the bureau actually had was dropped for fear he might be a double agent, while as late as 2002, only eight agents cold speak Arabic. The FBI remained a 'pyramid of paper,' mysteriously unable to create a decent computer system; by 2000, 'the average teenager had more computer power than most FBI agents.'...

     "It's infuriating to read of how FBI agents investigating Al Qaeda were stymied from stopping the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, thanks to a bureau misinterpretation of a Justice Department directive about sharing evidence...."

(See my blogs: "FBI: Tarnished Badges, January 3, 2012 and "The FBI Crime Laboratory: The Dark Years," January 30, 2012.)

The Secret Service

           Up until recently, if there was one federal law enforcement agency that had not been tarnished by incompetence, failure, and scandal, it is the Secret Service. There was an embarrassment in November 2009 when a couple of reality show types, Tareq Salahi and his trophy wife Michaele, crashed a state dinner in the White House. Three Secret Service Agents were disciplined, and the White House social secretary, Desiree Rogers, lost her job. In August 2011, a Secret Service agent doing advance work in anticipation of Obama's midwestern bus tour, got arrested for drunk driving in Iowa. In the scheme of things federal, these were small embarrassments.

Secret Service Agents and their Columbian Prostitutes

     President Obama's plan to discuss trade policies at the Sixth Summit of the Americas held on April 15, 2012 in Cartagena, Columbia, did not include the oldest trade of them all, prostitution. (In Columbia it's legal.) Roughly 7,600 police officers, and thousands of military personnel were on hand to provide security for the 30 or more heads of state coming to the city. (Think of the money saved if these politicians talked by phone, and didn't have to look important to voters back home.) Security measures included keeping homeless people and prostitutes out of certain parts of the coastal city.

     President Obama's advanced civilian security detail consisted of 20 or so uniformed and plain-clothed Secret Service agents. Several of the agents were members of the elite, impressively titled, Counter Terror Assault Team (CAT). These CAT agents, known for their heavy drinking and love of partying, are separate and somewhat estranged from the more disciplined president's protective detail. The uniformed and CAT agents, along with members of the White House staff, and press corps correspondents, were staying at the beachfront Hotel Caribe. (The correspondents, instead of filing boring stories about the summit, were treated to a juicy law enforcement scandal.)

     On Friday the 13th, CAT and uniformed Secret Service agents, as part of their Friday night partying at a Cartagena brothel called the Pley Club, invited at least 20 prostitutes to their rooms. Under Hotel Caribe rules, visitors to a guest's room must leave before seven the next morning. People who visit hotel guests have to register at the front desk. At seven in the morning on Saturday, a hotel employee noticed that one of the guests had not signed out of the hotel. When the manager went to the room to investigate, he was denied entry. The manager called the police which led to the discovery that the guest in question was a prostitute. The prostitute said she was not leaving the hotel until the agent paid for her services. The agent said he didn't know she was a working girl. (Sure.) The Cartagena police called the American Embassy, and that's when the pie hit the fan. If the Secret Service agent had just paid his $47 bill. (If this had been a GSA operation, the government would have paid for the girls, some of whom might be underage.)

     The initial inquiry into this international embarrassment has revealed that at least 20 Secret Service Agents are involved in the scandal, including two supervisors. Also in hot water are at least 10 military personnel assigned to the security detail. These military service members are explosive experts and dog handlers from the Navy and the Army. Eleven of the Secret Service agents were immediately sent back to the states, and the military people were confined to their quarters. The disgraced agents were gone when Obama and his people rolled into town Saturday evening. The Pentagon and the State Department have launched investigations.

     New York Congressman Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he didn't think any crimes had been committed by the Secret Service agents. However, King did consider the alleged behavior a "dereliction of duty." No doubt congressional hearings will be held, and other than a few politicians getting a chance to grandstand on TV, nothing will come of this national embarrassment.

     Ronald Kessler, a former reporter with the Washington Post who has written a book about the Secret Service that details how cutbacks and corner-cutting has seriously attenuated the agency's effectiveness, has called the affair the biggest scandal in Secret Service history. Kessler believes the offending agents should lose their top secret security clearances. (Agents involved in the scandal had President Obama's schedule in their rooms.) Without security clearances, these men cannot remain with the agency. Kessler also believes that Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan should step down. (I doubt this will happen. Presidents hate to fire these people, and they rarely, on their own volition, go quietly into the night. To wit: Attorney General Eric Holder and the Fast and Furious scandal.)


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