The confidence crisis for the Secret Service

A member of the Secret Service Uniformed Division with a K-9 walks along the perimeter fence along Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House in Washington.
A member of the Secret Service Uniformed Division with a K-9 walks along the perimeter fence along Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House in Washington. AP

When Michaele and Tareq Salahi crashed a White House state dinner five years ago, President Barack Obama said he “could not have more confidence” in the Secret Service.

When the Secret Service sent home 11 agents from Cartagena, Colombia, for hiring prostitutes, the White House said Obama had “full confidence” in the Secret Service.

When an armed intruder penetrated the White House itself in September, a spokesman again said Obama had “full confidence” in the Secret Service.

Even now, after two senior Secret Service managers suspected of having been drinking drove their vehicle, overhead lights flashing, through security tape at the White House and hit a temporary barricade, the White House said Obama has “full confidence” in his newly appointed director, Joseph Clancy.

Obama is in denial about the systemic problems at the Secret Service. In choosing Clancy in February to reform the agency, Obama ignored the chief recommendation of his own four-person panel that he name an outsider for the job. Instead, Obama turned to Clancy, a career agent who had been acting director since October.

Coming from the same culture that has led to all the failings, Clancy represents everything that is wrong with the agency.

To Secret Service agents, Clancy’s appointment meant it would be business as usual at the agency charged with protecting the president’s life.

“Clancy staying is the worst thing that could happen to us,” a current Secret Service agent who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation told me. “He is cut from the same cloth as the previous recent directors. You have to get rid of that mentality. Agents will not speak out about problems because of the repercussions. He has made no effort to change that and will not make the changes that are necessary.”

As if to prove the point that Clancy was the wrong man to fix the Secret Service, in the latest incident, two weeks after Obama named him director, a senior Secret Service supervisor and another agent who was second in command of Obama’s protective detail plowed their cruiser into a security barricade at the White House. They were returning from a retirement party at a bar in Chinatown.

Officials with knowledge of the incident have told The Post that uniformed Secret Service officers wanted to arrest them and administer sobriety tests but were overruled by a supervisor, who let the agents go home.

Equally revealing, it took five days for Secret Service officials to inform Clancy of the incident. That tells you everything Obama should need to know about whether Clancy has turned around the agency.

With much fanfare in the press, Clancy pushed out officials who fostered a culture leading to corner-cutting and coverups. But unreported in the press, Clancy replaced them with managers who came from that same culture.

Unfortunately, the one person who could initiate the needed steps to reform the agency by appointing an outside director who is immune from the corrupt management culture and is not beholden to interests within the agency continues to have “full confidence” in its operations – despite all evidence to the contrary.

Ronald Kessler is a former Post investigative reporter and the author of “The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.”