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Friday, July 10, 2015

July 10, 2015: Secret Service Stories: 21st Century Scandals

[In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Secret Service’s founding, this week I’ll highlight a series of histories and stories related to that unique department within our federal government. Leading up to a new Guest Post on the organization this weekend!]
On what’s not new about the recent spate of scandals, and what is.
Over the last few years, as this Washington Post timeline exhaustively details, the Secret Service has had more than its share of embarrassments and scandals. None of these incidents have painted the agency in a flattering light, and the worst have revealed a widespread culture of party and corruption that seems quite antithetical to the rigor and professionalism required for this unique, challenging job. Yet as I wrote in Monday’s post, responding in particular to Susan Cheever’s Vanity Fair article on alcohol and the Secret Service agents who were working during the JFK assassination, an engagement with the agency’s history seems to reveal that its culture has always been (or at least has always included an element that is) a far cry from our mythologized images of stoic, superheroic agents dedicated solely to presidential protection.
So perhaps the scandals involving alcohol (and drunk driving), parties (with Colombian prostitutes), and the like are simply more lurid, or even just more covered in our media-saturated world, than were their counterparts of yesteryear. Far more troubling, however, are the many incidents on that Post timeline that detail security breaches, moments when the Secret Service was not aware of the identities of those in close proximity to President Obama. And those incidents are particularly troubling because of an element that does appear to be new to, or at least greatly amplified in, our 21st century moment: the ever-increasing number of threats directed at our president. Given that the staggering numbers in that linked piece reflect only the threats discussed by the Secret Service, and for that matter that many possible threats are likely not discovered by the agency at all, it seems impossible to argue that Secret Service protection of President Obama is not a vital necessity; and equally impossible not to be shaken by the apparent ease, per the incidents in that timeline at least, with which folks who should not necessarily be near the president have been able to achieve that access.
I suppose I hope that the number of such threats will decrease once President Obama is out of office. That is, I don’t hope so because of what it would confirm about the hateful and violent responses to Obama (although I’m quite certain of the reality of those responses in any case); but I do hope so because of course I don’t want to live for the rest of my life in a society where more than 30 daily threats are made against our elected leader. Yet whatever the precise origins of these increased threats, the sad truth, revealed yet again (the week in which I’m writing this post) in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, is that 21st century American society is awash in guns and gun violence, in hateful and divisive rhetoric, in media and online echo chambers that facilitate and amplify such rhetoric, in right-wing extremism and terrorism, and in many other factors that make it difficult for me to imagine that future leaders won’t face similar dangers. And while we can no more eliminate all threats than we can “win” a “war on terror,” we certainly need an effective Secret Service to help protect our elected officials to the best of their abilities.
Guest Post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Other Secret Service connections you’d highlight?

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