Protecting POTUS

In the week that the Director of the United States Secret Service (USSS) resigned because she had lost the confidence of the people that she was meant to protect, we thought we would try and track down what independent assurance is provided over the agency that has the dual role of preventing and investigating the counterfeiting of US currency and US treasury securities and the protection and safety of current and former national leaders.

In doing so we came across a fascinating October 2009 report from the Inspector General of the United States Department of Homeland Security (the Department under which the USSS reports).

It was titled United States Secret Service After-Action Review of Inaugural Security and it relates to the 2008 inauguration of President Obama.

The report was requested by the United States House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson as a result of a report in the Washington Post about lax security.

In that sense if one was to apply a non-Presidential prism over the circumstances the report could be considered a Management Request resulting from a whistle blower complaint.

The review’s scope was:

  • Review the United States Secret Service protective security plans for the inauguration;
  • Investigate and identify any deficiencies in security operations, including communications and information sharing between security personnel, deviations from security plans, and any mitigating circumstances or justifications; and
  • When appropriate, critique these operations and make recommendations to strengthen Secret Service practices.

An interesting addendum to the scope was that Chairman Thompson also asked that

We assess what the Secret Service may do differently to protect the nation’s first African-American President.

The results of the review were probably of the quality that the current USSS leadership could only hope for:

The USSS investigation of the security concerns cited in the January 30, 2009, Washington Post article was timely and thorough.

We concluded from our participation in USSS-led interviews, and our review of planning documents and of work papers from USSS-led interviews, that  USSS maintains a culture of self examination.

USSS interviews with its own special agents and Uniformed Division, and with partner law enforcement agencies, are designed to identify both actual and potential security weaknesses.

During these interviews, law enforcement officers offered frank appraisals of the strengths and weaknesses of security plans and implementation.

USSS interviews with PIC staff and with the donor VIPs mentioned in the Washington Post article also demonstrated the USSS commitment and ability to identify and address areas for improvement.

The relevance for organisations that are not otherwise tasked with protecting the titular Leader of the Free World – but is required to undertake a high profile examination of an issue – is the way that the review was undertaken:

  • Was the methodology appropriate?
  • Was the interview process adequate?
  • Was there a threat assessment undertaken?
  • How was theory matched with reality – or as the report calls it “mixed experience with flexibility”
  • How did the organisation work with its partners?
  • How was the execution of the process undertaken?

Part of the concerns being investigated was that people were real time tweeting perceived deficiencies in the security arrangements.  The USSS self assessment will sound very familiar to many organisations:

USSS concluded in the Multi-Agency Report that it must develop more advanced mechanisms to monitor and respond to social networking sites as technological advances expand the availability of real-time information. 

We look forward to the Inspector General report that is no doubt currently being written on the recent circumstances and the lessons to be learnt therefrom.


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