The Se­cret Ser­vice and the FBI model

The right G-man as di­rec­tor would not tol­er­ate a cul­ture of cover-ups

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Ron­ald Kessler

If you want to know how to fix the Se­cret Ser­vice, take a look at its sis­ter or­ga­ni­za­tion, the FBI. Back when Louis J. Freeh was FBI di­rec­tor, the bureau seemed to be fall­ing apart. Almost ev­ery six months, a new scan­dal erupted: the flawed indictment of Los Alamos sci­en­tist Wen Ho Lee, the fi­asco in­volv­ing in­no­cent by­stander Richard Jewell at the Olympics bombing in At­lanta, and the fail­ures of the FBI lab­o­ra­tory.

Each of the prob­lems was di­rectly trace­able to de­ci­sions that Mr. Freeh made. Even FBI agent Robert Hanssen’s spy­ing most likely would have stopped if Mr. Freeh had adopted a rec­om­men­da­tion by Robert “Bear” Bryant, who headed the bureau’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Di­vi­sion, to poly­graph all coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence agents. In­stead, for seven more years un­til he was caught, Hanssen con­tin­ued to pro­vide the Rus­sians with some of the most dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion in the his­tory of Amer­i­can es­pi­onage.

The deeper prob­lem was that Mr. Freeh made it clear he did not want to hear coun­ter­vail­ing views or bad news. He pun­ished those who dared to dis­agree with him or tell him the truth about prob­lems within the bureau.

“Freeh said he wants ev­ery­thing straight. The first per­son who told it to him straight, he cut his head off,” Wel­don Kennedy, whom Mr. Freeh pro­moted to as­so­ciate deputy di­rec­tor, is quoted as say­ing in my book “The Se­crets of the FBI.”

All that changed dra­mat­i­cally when Mr. Freeh re­signed and Robert S. Mueller III be­came FBI di­rec­tor just be­fore Sept. 11, 2001. Early on, Mr. Mueller re­moved the head of the Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Di­vi­sion when, while brief­ing him on a Chi­nese coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence case in Los An­ge­les, she failed to warn him of prob­lems with it. Mr. Mueller’s ac­tion sent a mes­sage through­out the bureau: In con­trast to Mr. Freeh, Mr. Mueller would ban­ish those who did not level with him and give him the facts.

With the same force­ful­ness, Mr. Mueller changed the FBI’s cul­ture to em­pha­size pre­vent­ing fu­ture at­tacks over pur­su­ing pros­e­cu­tions and ob­tain­ing con­vic­tions. Mr. Mueller placed Arthur M. “Art” Cum­mings II, an agent who was a for­mer Navy SEAL, over coun­tert­er­ror­ism. When an agent came to him to pro­pose an ar­rest, Mr. Cum­mings would tell the agent he may be putting the coun­try at risk by do­ing so be­cause it is more im­por­tant to de­velop the in­di­vid­ual as an as­set to lead the FBI to more sources and plots.

The re­sults have been im­pres­sive. Largely be­cause of the FBI, we have not had a suc­cess­ful for­eign ter­ror­ist at­tack since Sept. 11.

To­day, the Se­cret Ser­vice faces the same prob­lems the FBI faced un­der Mr. Freeh. The man­age­ment cul­ture pun­ishes agents who tell the truth and re­port de­fi­cien­cies or even pos­si­ble threats. Agents who cover up prob­lems, bend se­cu­rity rules un­der pres­sure from politi­cians, and pro­mote the myth that the Se­cret Ser­vice with its mea­ger bud­get is in­vin­ci­ble are pro­moted.

We saw that men­tal­ity when a fe­male Uni­formed Di­vi­sion of­fi­cer re­ported hear­ing gun­shots at the White House on the evening of Nov. 11, 2011. When her su­per­vi­sor pooh-poohed the re­port and told her the noise was from a con­struc­tion site, she backed down. She later said she felt she would be crit­i­cized for telling the truth.

As with any or­ga­ni­za­tion in trou­ble, the so­lu­tion is not to hold more hear­ings or write more re­ports, but to place a new CEO from the out­side in charge. An out­sider would be im­mune from the agency’s failed cul­ture and would not be be­holden to en­trenched in­ter­ests within the Se­cret Ser­vice.

Gov­ern­ment has a ten­dency to want to rein­vent the wheel. Yet the model that should be adopted is only a few blocks from Se­cret Ser­vice head­quar­ters: the FBI, which has not only been highly suc­cess­ful, but has had few in­ter­nal prob­lems.

If a for­mer high-rank­ing FBI of­fi­cial were named Se­cret Ser­vice di­rec­tor, he or she would not stand for the cul­ture that pro­motes cover-ups and in­stills fear of reprisals for point­ing out prob­lems. More­over, a for­mer FBI of­fi­cial would rec­og­nize how flawed the Se­cret Ser­vice’s in­fra­struc­ture is and fix it.

As an ex­am­ple, the Se­cret Ser­vice does not poly­graph agents after they are hired, open­ing the door to a dou­ble agent and a pos­si­ble as­sas­si­na­tion. In con­trast, the FBI poly­graphs all em­ploy­ees ev­ery five years and coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence agents more of­ten. Nor does the Se­cret Ser­vice give agents the kinds of an­nual up­dates on the law and ar­rest pro­ce­dures that are stan­dard at the FBI and most po­lice de­part­ments.

As a for­mer fed­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cial, a Se­cret Ser­vice di­rec­tor who comes from the FBI would not face the steep learn­ing curve of a can­di­date from another back­ground.

Pres­i­dent Obama and his four-per­son panel that will pro­pose changes would be wise to ask Mr. Mueller and James B. Comey, his suc­ces­sor as FBI di­rec­tor, for their rec­om­men­da­tions. Given that the calamity of an as­sas­si­na­tion nul­li­fies democ­racy, the need for an FBI of­fi­cial to over­haul the Se­cret Ser­vice could not be more ur­gent. Ron­ald Kessler, a for­mer Wash­ing­ton Post and Wall Street Jour­nal in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter, is the au­thor of “The First Fam­ily De­tail: Se­cret Ser­vice Agents Re­veal The Hid­den Lives of the Pres­i­dents” (Crown Fo­rum, 2014).


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