Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Secret Service Secrets

Candice Millard's great book "Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President" wove the tale of James A. Garfield, 20th president of the USA.  His term lasted but 200 days, cut short by a bullet from an assassin named Charles Guiteau.  Medicine and emergency shock trauma services being what they were in 1881, they fell short of saving his life, but not before all sorts of measures were attempted, including the use of a device being developed by Alexander Graham Bell that tried to find the bullet by magnetic means.

It was easy to reach Bell to have him come to the president's aid, as he was the only "Inventor" then listed in the Yellow Pages.

One startling fact that I took away from reading Ms Millard's book was that, in the 1800s, people could stroll into the White House at any time during business hours, and ask to see the president. As a matter of fact, Guiteau was one of those people to do so.  A deranged individual generally described in history books as a "disappointed office seeker," Guiteau demanded some sort of appointment as an ambassador because, well, just because.  So when his efforts were rebuffed, he went to the Sixth Street train station in DC and fired the fatal shots.

Well, today, of course, with many more madmen roaming the nation, we know better than to allow just anyone to enter the White House,  so there is a fence all around the place and dozens of highly-trained, motivated, well-prepared members of the Secret Service in place to keep any and all potential intruders on the side of the fence where they belong.


Except for last week, when an Iraq war veteran was arrested after jumping that White House fence and running just past the north portico White House doors. His name is Omar Gonzalez, and he was unarmed except for a Spyderco VG-10 folding knife with a 3-and-a-half inch serrated blade, according to the Secret Service. Their officers saw him jump the fence and chased him through the UNLOCKED door of the residence of the president and his family. Gonzalez said "that he was concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing and needed to get the information to the President of the United States so that he could get the word out to the people," according to an affidavit filed in court.

This poor fellow is said to be a victim of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder relating to his service in Iraq, and clearly needs psychiatric care.

As that is arranged, here are some recent scandals that have damaged the reputation of the Secret Service.

  • March 2014 - three agents sent home from the Netherlands after an alleged night of drinking. One of the agents was found passed out in a hotel hallway...
  • November 2013 -in DC, Secret Service supervisor Ignacio Zamora was allegedly discovered trying to get back into a room at the Hay-Adams Hotel of a woman he had met at the hotel bar after leaving a bullet from his gun in her room. The hotel staff notified the White House. Zamora and officer Timothy Barraclough, both assigned to protect President Obama, were also investigated for alleged misconduct involving sexually suggestive e-mails sent to a female subordinate...
  • April 2012 - Off-duty agents allegedly brought strippers from a club back to a hotel in Cartagena, Colombia while there to protect the president at a summit meeting.

Clearly, the people in charge of the Secret Service need to think about higher standards for the people they hire, and higher fences for the presidential residence.

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