March 25, 2017

Reevaluate the US Secret Service

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 7:15 am

TSD LogoIf the recent penetration of the White House grounds and the theft of a laptop computer with sensitive security and investigative information are an accurate indication of the present security awareness and readiness of the US Secret Service, then once again a major reevaluation of the organization is needed.

First, the protective mission of the Secret Service needs to be restated with renewed emphasis.  “Gunshot mentality” must be culturally replaced with “Secure environment mentality.”  It was supposed to happen after the Warren Commission report, but complacency dies hard.

Second, the present Secret Service Director must be replaced with someone from outside the Secret Service.  In addition to all of the administrative and management knowledge, skills, and abilities taxpayers would expect in a 21st century chief executive law enforcement officer, the new Director must also have a very strong and extensive experiential background in counterintelligence.  The new Director should come with extensive experience from a counterintelligence component inside the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Defense Department (DoD), or Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).   OpenCdA’s preference would be to select a new Director from the DoD.

The two recent incidents linked above and others that preceded them are clear indicators that some of the more sensitive findings of the September 24, 1964, President’s Commission to Report Upon the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Warren Commission) were not fully culturally embraced by the US Secret Service.  The various Congressional committees examining the recent performance of the US Secret Service needs to look back at all those findings including those still under the seal of secrecy.

Ask almost anyone including some members of Congress to identify the most important function of the U.S. Secret Service.  Even among those respondents who know what the Secret Service statutory responsibilities are, most will say, “Protecting the President of the United States.”   Questioned further, they are likely to define that as protecting the President from physical harm.

While I do not wish any President any physical harm, the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution adopted just over 50 years ago provides for the orderly transfer of power and continuity of federal government if the President dies, resigns, is removed from office or is otherwise unable to discharge the powers of the presidency.

The death, resignation, removal from office, or other incapacitation of the President of the United States will cause emotional distress, but it does not imperil the national security.  Conversely, the undetected compromise of the President’s decision-making environment by our adversaries’ intelligence services would.

To restate that in grossly oversimplified terms:  Our national security may be jeopardized for a few hours to a very few days by a fatal or disabling attack on the President.  Conversely, strategically emplacing technical surveillance devices that operate successfully and undetected for years to capture the President’s decision-making processes would jeopardize the national security for the device’s operating life regardless of who the President is.

It is the President’s supposedly secure decision-making environment that is attacked during information collection efforts.   Indeed, if a foreign intelligence service is able to successfully mount an information collection or influence operation in the President’s trusted environment, it is to that foreign intelligence service’s advantage to ensure the continued health and safety of the sitting US President.  That comparison emphasizes the importance of protecting the President’s environment.  Protect his decision-making environment first, provide him with a safe and secure environment in which to conduct business,  and his body will also be protected.

In ordering the Secret Service to correct its myopic bodyguard mindset, the Warren Commission sought to force the Secret Service to recognize that presidential security included not only protecting his body but also protecting his ability to make the decisions of state in surroundings secure from technological attacks against body and national security information.

In 1965  the Secret Service responded to the Warren Commission’s recommendation and created the Technnical Security Division (TSD).

The Secret Service sought to staff the newly created TSD with already-employed GS-1811 Special Agents (SA), but finding on-board SAs who already possessed the requisite scientific and technical education and professional knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience proved difficult.  There were a tiny handful, so even if there had been enough to initially staff the fledgling TSD, where would replacements come from?

At the time the Secret Service’s recruitment standards were consistent with the bodyguard mindset on the assumption that a college graduate with a degree in anything could be trained to investigate relatively uncomplicated crimes involving US obligations and to stand a security post.  Being white, male, and physically fit with perfect eyesight and a four-year college degree had been more important than understanding health physics, toxicology, the differences between the Munroe and Misznay–Schardin effects,  Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem, or the intelligence cycle and process.  

At the time, the Secret Service was still a component of the Treasury Department, so for reasons more political and self-serving than practical, it would have been unthinkable for Treasury and the Secret Service to turn to the FBI or the CIA to staff the newly-created TSD.

However, the military had people with the desired technical skills.   Plus, every military recruit regardless of service receives counterintelligence awareness training from his service’s counterintelligence component.   Consequently, the Secret Service hired primarily former military personnel to staff the original TSD.  They were professionally and educationally prepared.

One particular TSD section was staffed primarily with former counterintelligence special agents from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Army’s Military Intelligence (Counterintelligence) Branch.   In broad terms, counterintelligence incorporates physical, information, and personnel security practices into the concept of environmental protection.

In staffing TSD, the Secret Service learned quickly that its most qualified applicants were rarely able to meet the rigid physical requirements and standards required for GS-1811 applicants.   The level of technical and counterintelligence competence and experience mandated by Congress through the Warren Commission was not necessarily measureable or compatible with a Snellen chart or a physical fitness test.

Additionally, the Secret Service also learned that the ongoing technical education and training required for the TSD employees to maintain their professional proficiency on par with their counterparts in other agencies would be initially and continually costly.

In our October 5, 2014, OpenCdA post entitled First Steps in Rehab…, we offered some suggestions for restructuring the US Secret Service.  We think those are still valid.   But more is needed.  The next Director of the US Secret Service needs to come from an experiential background rich in command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I).

While the Secret Service must be concerned about attacks from bullets, bombs, and toxins, it must be even more concerned about the silent and sinister attacks of information warfare.   The Director of the US Secret Service must not be viewed by others in the US government as little more than the Bodyguard-in-Chief.

It’s time once again for Congress to reassess what it really means to protect the President of the United States.

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