The Secret Service has had some questionable behaviors as of late, including shots fired on the White House that went unnoticed until maintenance found bullet casings on the White House lawn in 2011. Then in September of 2014, a security contractor, with an arrest record, got into an elevator with President Obama in Atlanta with a holstered gun. All the while, the President’s Protection Detail did not notice. Last year, a man with a knife jumped the White House fence, got past the Secret Service and made it far into the White House. However concerning these incidents are, they are not the most disturbing. The Secret Service were not on their game in dealing with a bomb threat outside the White House gate. Then, after barricades were put around the potential bomb, two intoxicated Secret Service agents drove through the barricade.
On March 4, a woman pulled up to the White House security gate fence line, on 15th street, at 10:24 p.m. and left a package outside the fence. She told an officer that the package was a bomb. When the officer confronted her, she assaulted the officer and fled the scene. An officer followed the women in her car. The officer made no attempt to pull her over, just followed her. Then the officer was told he was following the wrong car and was called off. 30 minutes after the woman fled the scene, the Secret Service put out a BOLO for the woman’s car.
President Obama was in the White House at the time. The Secret Service did not call the Metropolitan Police Department bomb squad for 11 minutes. The bomb squad was told there was a “suspicious package” outside the White House gate on 15th Street. So, for 17 minutes, the potential bomb sat on the sidewalk while people drove and casually walked by. If the the proper authorities had been told that the woman said the package was a bomb, the approach and response time from the bomb squad would have been very different.
An hour and 20 minutes after the potential bomb was dropped off, the scene was declared safe, after discovering the package was merely a book. The woman was arrested for other charges three days later, 90 minutes away from the scene.
The director of the Secret Service, Joseph Clancy has been confronted by the chairman of the House oversight committee, Jason Chaffetz (R, UT), concerning the essentially failed bomb threat response. The Washington, D.C. Police Department provided Chaffetz with their surveillance video of the “bomb threat” that ended with two agents, possibly intoxicated, driving a government vehicle through the security barricaded crime scene, returning from a party they attended off-duty.
Both Chairman Chaffetz and Representative Elijah Cummings (D, MD), are pushing for answers about the possibly intoxicated senior agents who drove through the crime scene after partying. The way the bomb threat was handled, however, is not a new area of concern, as it is simply the latest of the failures for Secret Service agents. In response, Clancy stated that the inspector general from the Department of Homeland Security was handling the investigation, saying people will be held accountable.
Clancy did say he was infuriated that he was not informed about the agents driving through the scene for five days. He learned about it after hearing there was an anonymous email going around the Secret Service. The committee released the email that said the two agents were “extremely intoxicated” upon arrival on the scene, and only nudged the barrier. The two agents were showing their White House badges, clueless as to why the post had been evacuated. According to the email, officers were going to arrest the agents, but the watch commander told officers to let them go. The agents did not take a sobriety test before leaving the scene, they have also not been disciplined for the incident.
Director Clancy was the only witness at Tuesday’s hearing. Chaffetz and Cummings requested the attendance of several Secret Service agents, but were refused by Clancy. On March 17, Clancy was not able to answer any questions concerning the package and the suspect’s ability to flee the scene. Clancy also offered no reason for the absence of the other agents. It has been three weeks and the agents who witnessed the events of March 4 have not been able to testify before the committee. Fundamental questions still need to be answered by the Secret Service.
Chairman Chaffetz also questions the legitimacy of a claim that the surveillance footage from March 4 was taped over, due to the policy of taping over footage after 72 hours. Chaffetz believes the claim to be false. His beliefs stem from a lack of trust with the Secret Service, as well as the knowledge that the agents who drove through the barricade were intoxicated.
By Jeanette Smith
Photo courtesy of Christy Mannering – Flickr License