Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 20, 2009

Secret Service -Its Mission, Its Future

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Investigation & Enforcement,State and Local HLS — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on October 20, 2009

Bryan Bender from the Boston Globe reports this morning on “new questions” about the 144-year-old Secret Service’s “mission.”  Specifically, he notes that the agency, which has dual missions of protection and financial crimes investigations, may be overwhelmed by the protection mission and need, according to some critics, to abdicate its investigative mission.  Bender cites  “the unprecedented number of death threats against President Obama, a rise in racist hate crimes, and a new wave of antigovernment fervor” as reasons for the Secret Service’s strain.  He cites a Congressional Research Service internal report that found that the two mission approach may be “ineffective” and recommends evaluating whether to transfer some of the service back to the Treasury Department.

Splitting the Secret Service by its mission would be devastating.  Currently, the agency has more than 6,500 employees, including 3,200 Special Agents, 1,300 Uniformed Division Officers, and 2000 administrative employees. The Special Agents fulfill the investigative mission, as well as sensitive protective details and investigations. The Uniformed Division provides the “physical” protection to the White House and foreign diplomatic missions in the Washington D.C. area.

The financial and technology crimes investigative authorities of the agency allow it to operate on an ongoing basis in communities throughout the nation. Its 20+ Electronic Crime Task Forces (ECTF), created after 9/11, allow the Secret Service to build a strong local federal, state, and local law enforcement partnerships, that also include industry and academia.  The value of these local connections help reinforce the Secret Service’s protection mission as it allows the agency to build ongoing trusted relationships with local law enforcement officials.   The relationship between federal and state/local law enforcement can be tenuous – even more so when “outsiders” come into a locality and tell state and locals what to do.   Strong relationships are critical as protected officials travel and National Special Security Events (NSSEs) happen throughout the nation.  Isolating the Secret Service by focusing its mission only on protection would not help the protection mission.

In addition, the investigative mission allows the Secret Service to recruit and hire the best and brightest investigators. Specific protection missions such as protecting the President, Vice President and other dignitaries are opportunities given to the best and brightest of the best and brightest.  After completing a grueling and exhausting protective detail, Special Agents often return to their communities in investigative roles, thereby building stronger connections with their communities.

The investigate responsibilities also contribute to the Secret Service’s ability to fulfill its protection mission by allowing it to develop expertise to assist in its efforts to pursue protection missions.  For example, in today’s increased network world, the Internet and technologies are increasingly being used to perpetrate threats (think of the recent Facebook poll on where the President should be killed).  As an agency tasked with computer crime authorities, the Secret Service has the internal capability of pursuing these types of incidents.

There is little question that the Secret Service is overwhelmed but that is because it needs more resources and personnel.  As NSSEs are increasingly declared and more officials are deemed needing protection, the Secret Service’s funding has to be increased accordingly.  In addition, there needs to be more flexibility in getting resources to the Secret Service quickly and effectively, especially when NSSEs and related special events are identified.

The recommendation that part of the Secret Service go back to the Treasury Department is troubling for another reason — it continues the drumbeat of dismantling the Department of Homeland Security piece by piece to return the nation to pre-9/11 days.  FEMA and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), among other agencies, have both been proposed to be moved out of DHS back to their previous status.   Perhaps this is a consequence of what this blog discussed last week – the waning of homeland security.  It may be just continued jurisdictional wrestling.

While the Secret Service’s dual-mission should be strengthened, not dismantled, there could be some reorganization worth exploring.  The Uniformed Services Division, for example, could be made a separate entity or combined with the Federal Protective Services to strengthen its ability to protect across government buildings.  That is a blog topic in and of itself…

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8 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 20, 2009 @ 11:33 am

Good post! Secret Service is under stress. There does appear to be a defensive mentality au courant in high levels of DHS that loss of any portion might lead to a general unraveling of DHS. The counterfeiting mission is important and probably does related to Homeland Security and given tradition would opt for increasing funding and staffing of Secret Service and keeping in DHS. Nonetheless, a comprehensive review should be conducted as to programs, functions, missions improperly housed in DHS, my favorite being the National Flood Insurance Program which should be given to NOAA for mapping coastal areas and returned to the STATES with a block grant for mapping for riverine and inland flooding issues and mapping. Also there are over 50 programs, functions, and activities that are OUTSIDE DHS that should be reviewed for inclusion in the DHS portfolio. My favorite of course as readers of this blog know is DE–Drug Enforcement Administration. Rationalizing assignments is never easy, especially with Congressional oversight of DHS so disfuntional but still this needs doing. The other looming issue that looks like
Congress is getting interested in is whether the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Public Law 100-707, amending in part, replacing in part and supplementing Public Law 93-288 the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, should become a truly all-hazards crisis management and emergency management and homeland security mitigation, response, and recovery statute or whether the latent preparedness authority in that statute should be upgraded to make more effective. Unfortunately, DHS continued reorganization and internal re-delegation and reporting authorities have precluded stablity throughout DHS. This does not enhance DHS resilience or DHS grip on its portfolio. Again beef up the Secret Service but keep it in place and probably should have the Federal Protective Sevice under its leadership and authority.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 20, 2009 @ 11:37 am

I probably should have mentioned that no agency regrets the loss of part of its portfolio more than the Department of the Treasury regrets the loss of the Secret Service. All that face time with the President gone but not forgotten. Still the Secret Service is properly in DHS IMO!

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 21, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

Oddly timing wise just received notice that Secret Service and FEMA will be sharing a new IT contract for certain services.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

October 25, 2009 @ 11:00 pm

Ignoring the final statement that seems to deviate from the earlier argument presented by the blog posting (we shouldn’t separate financial investigation from protection, but we might talk about separating uniformed protection from “elite–we do investigations” protection…), what is particularly concerning about this post is this quote: “The recommendation that part of the Secret Service go back to the Treasury Department is troubling for another reason — it continues the drumbeat of dismantling the Department of Homeland Security piece by piece to return the nation to pre-9/11 days.”

Is Jessica suggesting that DHS was a meticulously planned creation? That any further reorganization, now that the creating Administration is gone, is out of the question in terms of increased security, productivity, or even common sense?

It should be remembered that the original plan for the department was created by 5 or 6 individuals in the basement of the White House. This work started after the Bush Administration realized it’s resistance to a new department would not carry Congress, and it needed to do something “bigger” than what was coming out of Lierbermen and the Democratic party. Chertoff than refined the department with his review (heavily influenced by the “2.0″ work of Heritage and CSIS).

While I certainly don’t want to simply dismantle DHS, any serious analysis or consideration about the best placement of certain functions in the government should not be dismissed as “pre-9/11 days” dreaming. Homeland security should be an all-government affair (indeed, an all-society affair), including HHS, DOD, DOE, EPA, Treasury, etc. If good reason is found to return certain functions to certain departments where expertise exists, I do not believe that is a knee-jerk pre-9/11 reaction. Indeed, it might even make us safer.

Who knows the financial systems and the myriad of potential ways to manipulate or defraud it? I would guess Treasury. What about nuclear threats? How useful is it to have DNDO in DHS while the vast majority of expertise lies in DOE and DOD? Beyond a “culture of homeland security” (which I’ve heard cited for such arguments…never mind DHS doesn’t have a unified culture…), why re-create every potential homeland security related capability in DHS?

Comment by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan

October 27, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

Arnold, thanks for the comments. It is a falacy to say that DHS was created overnight in the basement of the White House. The concept of an integrated National Homeland Security Agency originated with the Hart-Rudman Commission, which envisioned an agency that would consolidate FEMA, Customs, Border Patrol, and Coast Guard and would contain three directorates – Directorate of Prevention, Critical Infrastructure Protection, and FEMA. Months before 9/11, the Commission’s recommendations were incorporated in legislation by Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Republican. After 9/11, Rep. Thornberry, along with Sen. Lieberman, continued to push forward the idea of a homeland department. Homeland is not as simple as a D or R issue as whenever it is posed that way, we all lose out.

As far as the “expertise” argument, that’s an argument that has hampered a lot of the efforts to integrate DHS and to solve the jurisdictional battles on the Hill. Pre-DHS, every agency would arguably have held the expertise that is now housed at DHS. Indeed, that is the argument that was used in the House and Senate to continue various Committee’s jurisdictions over parts of DHS.

DHS may not be perfect and there may be room for reorganization, especially after the QHSR is finished. We certainly should be looking to reduce redunancies, if they exist, across Departments. It should not be the case, however, that we try to recreate pre-9/11 structures merely because agencies want to take back jurisdiction.

(As an aside, my last statement re FPS and SS Uniform Division is not a disconnect from the rest of the blog- just an issue for a future discussion. Both entities have a similar mission which may merit consideration of their merger. The question which I purposefully did not answer is whether that “mission” fits into the two-prong SS mission as currently envisioned or should be a separate stand-alone entity WITHIN DHS. I’d be interested in comments on whether such a merger (regardless of where the structure ended up) makes sense….)

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 30, 2009 @ 2:04 am

Several technical notes to helpful comments on the Post by Arnold and Jessica.
First, today October 29th the Secretary DHS announced the FPS was being removed from ICE (Not sure why placed there originally but would be interested to find out?) and placed in the NP%PD Directorate under Rand Beers. If I am correct and may not be now this becomes the largest subunit of NP&PD and is largely a badge carrying guntoting force with rent-a-cop contracts for the private security forces that it uses for its programs, functions, and activities.
Second, Jessica is correct that the Hart-Rudman Commission technically recommended an agency not a department for certain programs, functions, and activities. The FEMA briefers to that Commission were Lacey Suiter (now deceased) and Clay Hollister who treated the briefing based on eyewitnesses accounts rather less than seriously. They did point out however that FEMA operated only domestically and therefore did NOT fit the DHS portfolio. I have not pulled up the Commission Report recently but I believe that comment was reflected. Also at the time of the briefing of the Commission FEMA had just finished being dragged into Y2K issues after announcing to the world it had no role in that event. This position was reversed on the fly by Lacey Suiter when testifying before Congress and Congress was looking for help in dealing with the problems that might be created. Lacey had been director of EM for State of Tennessee for over 20 years, retired NG officer, and frequently mentioned Director of FEMA possibility from Reagan term 1 on for both parties. Clay Hollister at the time of the briefing was Acting Deputy Director for Response under Lacey. What is interesting is that NO formal records of their testimony or written records of their participation exists or did exist in FEMA before its incorporation into DHS.
Finally, what I call the GANG of SIX did draft the Adminstration version of the Homeland Security Act as announced on June 5th, 2002 and released to the HILL on June 19th. Few hearings or reports were prepared after June 19th as the Representative Richard Armey introduced the bill on behalf of the Administration and led the charge so to speak. The name FEMA and all PAS positions in FEMA were abolished by the bill and also by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The functions of FEMA were incorporated into a new Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate. This lasted until a “new” FEMA was formed effective March 31, 2007 by PKEMA! Why is the GANG of SIX story important. IN the drafting sessions were Tom Ridge, who had been embarassed by the Clinton Administration over disaster ops in PA after he was on record in the MSM blasting FEMA. Also was Andrew Card who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to be the lead in Florida for the response to Hurricane Andrew even though he was transportation secretary after the then Director of FEMA, a personal friend of John Sunnunu, is reliably reported to have asked that he not be assigned the lead for Hurricane Andrew response for personal or medical reasons. Card deeply resented the assignment, although when he departed the Bush Administration the official White House departure note from Bush called him the “Master of Disaster” for Hurricane Andrew. It is often assumed that Andrew was a factor in the Clinton victory and defeat of Bush yet in fact although frequently misreported the State of Florida did support President Bush even though he lost the election. Others identified as being involved were Cheney/Libby, Josh Boulton, Mitchell ? now governor of Indiana and then Director OMB and others including Ridge. Cheney who had been at DOD as Secretary during Hurricane Andrew also thought very little of FEMA and had encouraged then Senator Fritz Hollings when he begged for DOD support in Hurrican Hugo (1989)in his desire to transfer all FEMA program, functions, and activities including physical assets to DOD while leaving behind its personnel. Cheney always saw EM as a military functino which explains in part the George W. Bush interest in downplaying the FEMA role in HS.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

October 30, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

Thanks Bill for the clarification.

I certainly was not suggesting the concept of homeland security was created overnight in the White House. But the plan for what became the Department was done in a secretive manner “in the basement” over the course of a few months.

{Note: the following quotes are pulled from a Washington Post article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/21/AR2005122102327_pf.html. There was a NPS study done on the planning of the Department, interviewing several of the key participants, that I cannot locate at the moment.)

“In the White House bunker where Cheney had waited out the Sept. 11 attacks, a select group of policy aides had been secretly commissioned to plot the administration’s about-face.

They were called together in April by White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. — five mid-level staffers known as the “Gang of Five,” or as they liked to call themselves, the “G-5.” Two worked for Ridge — Lawlor and Richard A. Falkenrath, a security expert from Harvard — and Card sent his deputy Joel D. Kaplan, associate counsel Brad Berenson and deputy budget director Mark W. Everson.”

“Some of the decisions were almost random. Falkenrath thought it would be nice to give the new department a research lab that could bring cutting-edge research to homeland security problems. He called up a friend and asked which of the three Department of Energy labs would work. “He goes, ‘Livermore.’ And I’m like, ‘All right. See you later.’ Click,” Falkenrath told historians from the Naval Postgraduate School. He did not realize that he had just decided to give the new department a thermonuclear weapon simulator, among other highly sensitive assets of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

In June, after just six weeks of meetings, the department was ready for unveiling. The secret had been kept so well that even secretaries with major turf on the line had no idea what was coming until Card put out calls to the Cabinet the day before the president’s announcement.”

“The plan had been put together with such speed and secrecy that after its release angry officials had to explain to the White House how their agencies really worked. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham was able to beat back the total transfer of Livermore after it became clear the Gang of Five had little idea what the lab did. A similar battle unfolded over the Department of Energy’s radiological detection teams, which were supposed to be folded in with FEMA. The White House had not realized that the teams consisted of employees with regular jobs who mobilized only during emergencies.”

And I believe that the pre-9/11 structure for the Secret Service was dual protection and financial investigation housed at Treasury. So breaking up the two roles and returning financial investigation to Treasury would represent something new and is not representative of trying to return things to “pre-9/11 days.” In fact, since the rationale is that the protection side is growing ever larger, it seems that is recognition of a changing threat environment and not a simple wish to click the nation’s heels together to get back to Kansas.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 30, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

Arnold! Lawlor, Kaplan, Everson, and Falkenrath were definitely players and did much of the work. Lawlor had been an NG General (Vermont?) and lived with several real world disasters but singularly unimpressed with his FEMA contacts and interface. Kaplan also was important individual for financial and other expertise. Falkenrath was basically health issues and had come from and since gone back to NYC if I am correct! Everson of course became famous as IRS Commissioner and then briefly as head of ARC (American Red Cross)! The secretiveness as I understand it was to prevent Lieberman and his allies from gloating that their ideas were being kidnapped by the Adminstration. I have reviewed the applicable portion of Hart-Rudman Commission report since writing earlier comment. They almost got it right. The problem with the FEMA incorporation is that in my 20 years in FEMA (1979-1999) there were no “Players” who really felt that FEMA was more than an ATM machine and should be running domestic crisis management for the federal government. When brief flurries in that direction occurred they were instantly killed by DOD or DOJ even though oddly perhaps neither of these two organizations was funded or staffed for domestic crisis management either. That conundrum still persists and no administration has resolved it. I would argue the Brennan assisgnement as Crisis Manager for flu is not correct assignment for both reasons of competence and location and background. So we shall see. Thanks for the reminder of others involved in White House Situation room or bunker drafting sessions. None have addressed that phase in any of their writings as far a I know but have not read the new Ridge book yet.

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