The Secret Service began struggling to carry out its most basic duties after Congress and the George W. Bush administration expanded the elite law enforcement agency’s mission in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
According to government documents and interviews with dozens of current and former officials, the recent string of security lapses at the White House resulted from a combination of tight budgets, bureaucratic battles and rapidly growing demands on the agency that have persisted through the Bush and Obama administrations in the 13 years since the attacks. At the same time, the Secret Service was hit by a wave of early retirements that eliminated a generation of experienced staff members and left the agency in a weakened state just as its duties were growing.
The agency assumed new responsibilities monitoring crowds at an increasing number of major sporting events and other large gatherings seen as potential targets for terrorists. A new anti-terrorism law gave the agency a leading role in tracking cyberthreats against U.S. financial systems. And Bush expanded the circle of people granted round-the-clock protection to include the president’s and vice president’s extended family and some White House aides — an expansion that has been largely maintained under President Obama.
Where the Secret Service had been a gem of the Treasury Department for more than a century, its post-9/11 transfer to the sprawling new Department of Homeland Security suddenly forced it to compete for money and attention with bigger and higher-profile agencies focused on immigration and airport security.
The changes set in motion during that critical period after 2001 led to a slow, steady slide in quality, leaving an agency that, according to a DHS report released on Dec. 18, is “stretched to and, in many cases, beyond its limits.”
SOURCE: Carol D. Leonnig
The Washington Post