Secret Service Director Julia Pierson has resigned in the wake of several recent high level security breaches. Jeb Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the overshadowing agency which controls the SS, says Joseph Clancy will become acting director. Johnson was a former agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division.
On September 19 a man armed with a knife scaled a fence surrounding the White House and made it into the mansion. After the incident the Secret Service indicated that the intruder made it just steps inside the house but later reports confirmed he made it deeper than previously disclosed – “overpowering a Secret Service agent inside the North Portico entrance and running through the ceremonial East Room before he was tackled, according to a member of Congress familiar with the details of the incident.”
Under intense questioning on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Pierson admitted that her agents charged with securing the White House had failed to follow many security protocols.
Perhaps the last straw for Pierson came just yesterday when the SS agency acknowledged that an armed man was allowed to ride in an elevator with U.S. President Barack Obama during a September 16th event at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The man was reportedly a 3 time ex con.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that the elevator incident tipped the scales against Pierson:
“I think you could assume that is part of the recent and accumulating reports” that caused the president to change his view, Mr. Earnest said.
In a brief interview with Bloomberg News Pierson said that she had resigned because “Congress has lost confidence in my ability to run the agency. I can be pretty stoic about all this, but not really. It’s painful to leave.”
A 30-year veteran of the Secret Service, Pierson was supposed to have been the one to repair the reputation of the Secret Service after numerous boozing and prostitute-hiring scandals surfaced during foreign trips in recent years. Instead, Pierson will be remembered as the director during a period of incompetence.
Many suspect other careers may be in peril in light of the recent security lapses. Rep. Elijah Cummings commended Pierson for resigning, saying her resignation was in the best interest of the Secret Service as well as the president’s safety, but insisted more change would be required, including the possibility of more resignations from within the agency:
“I think we need to look beyond her resignation,” Mr. Cummings said in an interview. “I don’t want us, after she’s left, to say to ourselves that everything is resolved. Clearly there was a culture there that was not healthy.”
The intruder who jumped the White House fence, Omar J. Gonzalez, pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawfully entering a restricted government building while carrying a weapon, carrying a dangerous weapon in public and unlawfully possessing ammunition.
According to Ronald Kessler, author of In the President’s Secret Service, since Obama took office, the rate of threats against the president has increased 400% from the 3,000 a year on average under President George W. Bush. In that book Kessler claims that Obama is the target of more than 30 potential death threats a day and is being protected by an increasingly over-stretched and under-resourced Secret Service agency.
That figure has been disputed by the Secret Service which claims Obama receives about as many threats as the previous two Presidents.