Serious questions are being raised over the Secret Service's ability to successfully carry out their mandate. In a new book by Ronald Kessler, democracy's protective cloak of trained agents are shown to lack both the modern mentality and resources needed to tackle the ever-broadening spectrum of threats that they must confront. In The President's Secret Service is, as seems a recurring theme with Kessler's works, marred by inexact language and a structure that defies comprehension; yet, its warnings are clear and well supported, and for this it deserves attention.
Of greatest concern is the claim that the Secret Service remains encumbered by leadership that is adverse to change. Former agents who have risen through the ranks dictate the organization's direction, unwilling to let go of the antiquated methods that have governed protection in past decades. Students of the FBI and CIA -- both of which Kessler has tackled in previous books -- will no doubt see the similarities, with relics of former eras holding fort at the top and holding back their respective organizations from adopting a modern mind set. It is troubling to think that the Secret Service believes that the next attack on the president will come from a lone gunman -- a point that Kessler goes to great lengths to show. The adaptive nature of terrorist groups to the technological advances of the past twenty years has made their activities more effective and harder to stop. It is not a far stretch to imagine a diverse network of cells pooling their resources to launch a coordinated attack against the president.
Another major problem stems from the negative impact of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security on the way in which the Secret Service fights for, and receives, its funding. By bundling 22 government agencies and placing them under the auspices of a central body, the Secret Service has struggled to achieve the bureaucratic wins needed to maintain necessary funding. Protective details are stretched too thin, with agents complaining of being grossly underprepared to do their job. Funding problems have seeped into other areas as well; the Service has come to ask for longer hours and less rest from their agents, forcing many of the most experienced to jump ship into the private sector. What was once an elite and revered agency, floating in the shadows and out of the public's eye, has resorted to recruiting through posters on the District's buses.
It has been said that the mark of good leadership are those who try to predict the future. What the Secret Service needs are individuals who attempt to predict various futures. The next attack may be from a lone gunman. It may not. The Service may also benefit from the presence of seasoned bureaucratic warriors who could ensure that those protecting the president receive the funding they need to keep him, and our democracy, unharmed.