These are disturbing days for the agency charged with protecting the president of the United States. From prostitutes in Colombia to drunkenness in Amsterdam, it is no wonder that so many members of Congress — as well as former agents — have lost patience with a Secret Service that can’t seem to stay out of the news with embarrassing and high-profile cases of misconduct.
I was a Secret Service agent for 21 years, spent two tours of duty on the Presidential Protective Division and four years on the Counter Assault Team (CAT), and was part of trips for three presidents. I retired 10 years ago and have no dog in today’s agency fights. I do not believe that alcohol abuse is a cultural problem within the Secret Service. (In fact, many agents do not drink at all, and those who do tend to consume in moderation.)
The problem in the agency is not alcohol or debauchery, but weak leadership. There are too many incompetent managers who want the title, pay and perks of management while performing no duties of leadership. The problem is not bad Secret Service agents but bad leaders of Secret Service agents.
The United States Secret Service was created in 1865 and began protecting the president in 1902. During 110 years of presidential protection, the agency accompanied presidents on hundreds of thousands of domestic and overseas trips without bringing any unwanted attention upon itself. That is because, in my experience, agents tend to be intelligent, well-trained and fiercely patriotic Americans — nearly fanatical in their devotion to the mission at hand.
Yet, history shows that even the best units perform poorly with poor leaders, and the Secret Service is a prime example. The most disturbing common thread among the recent episodes of misconduct is that supervisors or team leaders have been involved. While it is unacceptable for any agent to commit infractions such as those in Amsterdam and Colombia, it is utterly inexcusable for those in charge to be involved. If managers show continued lapses in judgment, how and why would anyone expect the rank and file to behave better?
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