What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Are Secret Service budget cuts impacting the president’s security? – Part 2

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

     The security breach is raising, as we said, a lot of questions about the Secret Service, its ability to protect the president, and what changes might be made in and around the White House.

    Joining us is Carol Leonnig. She’s a reporter for The Washington Post, who has been following this story closely.

    Welcome to the program.

  • CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

      Thanks, Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So what more do we know, Carol, about why this man got as far as he did, opened the door of the White House and was about to go in?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    It’s kind of stunning.

    And, you know, the previous problems the Service have suffered, you could put in a category of misconduct, personal misbehavior. But this one is kind of on another — it’s in a whole other category, because it raises questions about sort of the tactical performance of the Secret Service.

    There are a number of rings of security around the White House to protect the complex and the president, of course, but to protect sort of this central beacon of our government. And all of those rings are reporting as showing failed.

    You know, the alarm bell sounded. Guys are supposed to swarm the area. A dog is supposed to be let loose if uniformed officers can’t collar that intruder. An emergency response team is supposed to go into action to basically jump all over this person. A host of things are supposed to happen that didn’t happen.

    That door is supposed to be locked, and it was open.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Why did all that happen?  Do you have answers to these questions?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    This whole event is under investigation by the Secret Service. And they have been very mum about that and in making any early proclamations.

    But what we have learned from people who are close to some of the evidence is that there are serious questions about whether or not the dog and the canine handler, which is sort of a failsafe way of stopping the intruder, whether they were in position at the right time on the North Lawn, or whether they were sort of out of position.

    There are also a lot of concerns — and we can’t attribute this to what happened necessarily Friday night, but there are a lot of concerns about severe staffing shortages among the division, the uniformed division of the Secret Service that is responsible for protecting the grounds.

    You know, you see the protective detail for the president usually on television.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    But this is sort of the hard-core back-of-the-kitchen group of the Secret Service that makes sure the grounds are safe. And that group has been understaffed for the last two-and-a-half years.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, that’s documented that they haven’t been — for budget reasons, been getting the money?  What’s the explanation?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    The Secret Service has said that hard decisions had to be made during continuing resolutions and budget tightening and that they decided that the best way the handle that and cover all their other costs was to go down a little on the number of officers in the uniformed division.

    They say that has not impaired their security protocols, but there are a lot of people inside the agency who say that it has endangered it. It has burned out officers. It has required them to come in their on off-days routinely, and that it has created a really low morale and probably has led to a couple posts not being monitored.

    Again, I stress, it doesn’t mean that that’s the reason this happened, but it is part of the background.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Decision-making on this goes to the very top. We mentioned Julia Pierson. She’s been there a year-and-a-half. What role is she playing in all this?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    She’s taking it very seriously. I think she’s extremely cognizant of how embarrassing this is an episode, an incident.

    Former senior — senior Secret Service agents are coming out saying that this is humiliating for the agency they love. And she says she’s going to do a top-to-bottom review. Were protocols violated?  Is the problem with training?  Is it about staffing?  Is it about how they communicate to officers?

    She has also said she is going to share with this with the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. We don’t know yet what parts of it will be public. I doubt that much of it will.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, based on the people you have talked to outside government, inside people who have served in the Secret Service before, how confident are they that this is going to get fixed?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    They’re a bit worried, I think. They have seen sort of a number of incidents that worry them, but this is a new low. And they wonder if perhaps the agency has become a little complacent, a little too reactive, rather than creative, in thinking about the new world of security.

    I can’t speak to that. That’s not my expertise, but listening to them, I hear a real anxiety about the agency they love.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And at a time when the threats against the president, against the White House are not lessening.

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    No, increasing actually in this administration.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Carol Leonnig with The Washington Post, we thank you.

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    Thank you, Judy.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News