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…