Editorials

Our View: It will take more than Director Julia Pierson’s dismissal to fix Secret Service

Julia Pierson has resigned as Secret Service director, but the agency’s problems run much deeper.
Julia Pierson has resigned as Secret Service director, but the agency’s problems run much deeper. The Associated Press

Everyone wants to feel safe in their home. But apparently not even our president, living in the world’s most recognizable house, is safe from intruders. No wonder President Barack Obama requested the resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson.

The president and his family were not victims of some sort of dramatic home-invasion (though those two movies from 2013 – “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down” – don’t seem so silly now). But what happened was plenty bad enough.

First we were told an unarmed man hopped the fence and ran to the front door before being stopped. Then we were told he actually got inside the White House, but just barely. Then we learned he was actually tackled well inside the house and that he was carrying a knife. In reality, he apparently was discovered by a Secret Service agent who wasn’t even on duty.

Where were the dogs? The alarms? The infrared surveillance we assumed tracked every living thing within 100 yards of the first living room?

Every president becomes an object of the violent fantasies of the disaffected and delusional. Sometimes those fantasies are acted on. There have been unsuccessful attempts on the lives of every president since Richard Nixon. In that he is the object of such anger, Obama is no different than other presidents. In other respects, he’s very different – the first black president and the object of both racism and political hatred.

We can’t know what simmers in the fevered minds of people crazy enough to court death by hopping the White House fence. But we hire dedicated people then train and equip them extremely well to keep anyone from doing it. So it is “absolutely unacceptable,” in the words of Pierson, that the Secret Service is falling short of its sworn duty to protect the first family.

Unfortunately, this is not just one failure.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that an even scarier close call occurred just two weeks ago. A security contractor with a gun was allowed on an elevator with Obama when he went to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Sept. 16. Secret Service agents grew nervous because he wouldn’t stop taking a cellphone video. Apprised of what was going on, the company that provides security for the CDC fired the contractor on the spot. Turns out he had previous convictions for assault. He then surprised agents – who didn’t know he was armed – by turning over his weapon.

Worse, Pierson was told of the incident but did not report it to a unit that investigates such lapses. Obama spokesman John Earnest said the president and his staff didn’t find out about it until moments before it hit The Post’s website.

In 2011, gunshots hit the White House. In 2012, Secret Service agents were dismissed for sexual misconduct in Colombia. That’s why Pierson was hired in the first place. Apparently, the agency’s dysfunction continues and continues to grow worse.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says there will be an independent investigation of the agency. That is warranted. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, hit the bull’s-eye when he said, “Problems at the Secret Service pre-date Ms. Pierson’s tenure as director, and her resignation certainly does not resolve them.”

We all want to believe our homes are secure. In the case of the White House, a thorough housecleaning of the Secret Service could be the only way to restore that sense of security.

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