2014 Archives

Secret Service Faces Leadership Crisis, Experts Say


The following is from the March 28, 2014, edition of U. S. News & World Report. Jeffrey Engel, an award-winning American history scholar and director of the Center for Presidential History at SMU, provided expertise for this story.

March 28, 2014

By Paul D. Shinkman

The storied Americans with dark glasses and an earpiece have yet another scandal to deal with, a hard hit for an agency defined by its clean-cut and commanding appearance.

Reports this week that three Secret Service agents were sent home from the Netherlands is the latest in a string of blemishes for the elite agency in the last few years. In 2012, a Secret Service agent was found passed out drunk on a sidewalk in Miami, shortly after President Barack Obama concluded a trip to South Florida. Earlier this March, two counter-sniper agents were involved in a car crash in Miami.

[READ: Secret Service Agent Found Drunk in Hotel Room]

Most notably, in April 2012, special agents in an advance team preparing for Obama’s trip to Cartagena, Colombia, were accused of soliciting high-priced prostitutes. Multiple agents and supervisors were fired or left the service following the scandal. . . 

But the agency's close association with the president in the eyes of the public, coupled with the Hollywood image of an elite and ubiquitous patriot, make each screw-up more magnified. The reported misconduct in the Netherlands would not be particularly unusual among other high-stress professionals, including corporate executives or members of the military, says Jeffrey Engel, director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History and an expert on security and the president.

“It’s only because it’s in the Secret Service that we hear about it,” Engel says. “We only hold the Secret Service to a higher standard because they’ve publicly said they hold themselves to a higher standard.”

A smaller number of agents and their selective positions also leave the agency much more vulnerable to public interest when things go wrong.

“We expect the Secret Service abroad to be not only the representatives of the country, but they’re acting as representatives of the most important power, the public center of gravity for our entire country,” Engel says. “We do hope they have a higher standard, though they are still human.” 

Read the full story.

# # #