Saturday, October 4, 2014

Secret Service chief Pierson resigns
amid security breach scandal

Secret Service chief Pierson resigns amid security breach scandal
DHS secretary says independent panel will review Sept. 19 fence-jumping incident

By Olivier Knox
October 1, 2014 3:32 PMYahoo News
U.S. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, appointed to fix the embattled agency in the wake of a scandal in which agents consorted with prostitutes in Colombia, has resigned, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced on Wednesday.

Pierson “offered her resignation, and I accepted it,” Johnson said in a statement. “I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the nation.” She was the agency's first female director.

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama had telephoned Pierson to thank her for her service.

"Over the last several days, we’ve seen recent and accumulating reports raising questions about the performance of the agency," Earnest told reporters. "The president concluded that new leadership of that agency was required."

Johnson said he had appointed retired Secret Service agent Joseph Clancy, former head of the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service, as acting interim director of the Secret Service.

Earnest praised Clancy as the right choice, stressing that he has the "full confidence of the president and the first lady."

And the secretary said he had decided that “a distinguished panel of independent experts” should look into the Sept. 19 incident in which a man armed with a knife scaled the White House fence and got deep into the presidential mansion before being stopped.

“The panelists will be named shortly. By December 15, 2014, this panel will submit to me its own assessment and recommendations concerning security of the White House compound,” Johnson said. “I will also invite the panel to submit to me recommendations for potential new directors of the Secret Service, to include recommendations of individuals who come from outside the Secret Service.”

Earnest said the president did not have a timetable for naming Pierson's replacement.

It was unclear whether a specific incident triggered the resignation. But Earnest noted that the White House had not heard about an episode in which an armed security contractor with a criminal record rode an elevator with Obama “until shortly before it was reported publicly” on Tuesday.
The president had named Pierson as Secret Service director in the aftermath of a scandal in which agents brought prostitutes to their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, shortly before Obama arrived for a summit of leaders of North and South America.

At the time, observers expressed hope that she could change the agency’s testosterone-fueled culture.

The Secret Service was created in 1865 to combat counterfeiting. It took over the job for which it is far better known — protecting presidents — after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901.

Several presidents have joked that the White House is “the crown jewel of the federal penal system,” implicitly making the Secret Service the country’s most elite prison guards.

But the agency has partly been defined by its public, high-profile failures, starting with the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The Secret Service museum features artifacts that highlight the threats to presidents. It includes the actual window from the armored limousine that Ronald Reagan rode in the day John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate him in 1981.

One of Hinckley’s six shots struck the glass, leaving a distinctive mark, while others hit the president and three officials, including a Secret Service agent.

The museum also features the assault rifle that Francisco Martin Duran pulled from under his trench coat and used to spray 29 shots at the White House in October 1994. And visitors to the facility can get a good look at the road atlas Duran used for his cross-country trip to Washington.

Durant covered one page with ominous notes in black marker — messages like “Kill The Pres! We are all Both God + Devil, Man is all he Created.”

Hollywood has popularized the image of dark-suited agents, in mirrored sunglasses, wearing earpieces, ready to take a bullet for the president. It’s an image the Secret Service has helped to cultivate in the media and the movie industry.

But the agency has not always been quick to react to its failings: It took eight years after JFK’s murder for the Secret Service to deploy its first countersniper teams.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican who grilled Pierson in a hearing on Tuesday, said his panel would continue to examine “clear and serious agency failures.”

“Problems at the Secret Service predate Ms. Pierson’s tenure as director, and her resignation certainly does not resolve them,” Issa said in a statement.

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, welcomed Johnson’s decision to name an independent panel and declared that he respected Pierson’s decision.

“Now we have to ensure that we focus on the difficult work of fully restoring the Secret Service to its rightful status as the most elite protective service in the world,” Cummings said in a statement.

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