Was The Secret Service ‘Gun-Shy’ Regarding The White House Fence Jumper?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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“I still don’t know how it happened,” says former President Bill Clinton regarding the intruder who hopped the White House fence, and made it all the way inside the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Well, I don’t know what happened, either — and I didn’t live there for eight years. But I do have a theory as to how this might have happened.

First, it’s important to note the Secret Service had been hit with scandals. There was the infamous “Cartagena Prostitute Scandal” — and then, later, something apparently happened in Amsterdam, because three agents were sent home. The Cartagena incident had serious consequences, including the appointment of a new boss, Julia Pierson, to head the agency.

Now what do you suppose was her raison d’etre? As the New York Times notes, when Pierson was appointed in 2013, “one of her tasks was to rehabilitate the agency’s reputation, which had been tarnished in recent years by security missteps and agents’ sleeping with prostitutes.” So here you have a new boss brought in, at least partly, in order to fix a PR problem.

But that’s only part of the story. Last year, an unarmed woman was shot and killed after ramming a White House barricade. As a result, prosecutors spent months investigating, and ultimately deciding not to charge the Capitol Police and Secret Service officers involved in the shooting. Still, one imagines the threat of being charged might have a chilling effect — might make you think twice before brandishing your weapon. And let’s not forget the second-guessing headlines like this: “Was police shooting of unarmed woman outside Capitol justified?” Let’s be honest, you would have seen some of the same headlines about the police shooting — or releasing the hounds on — a mentally-ill man.

But there’s more: This all exists in a world where the media spent weeks and weeks covering the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri. This event, understandably, led to a lot of discussion and debate about police brutality, the militarization of police, and excessive use of force.

Now, there will hopefully be a positive outcome to all of this — at least, in regards to better police training and procedures and transparency. But isn’t it also possible — no, likely — that the combination of these events has led to an environment where Secret Service officers find their loyalties divided — where protecting the White House might take a back seat to avoiding bad press?

This is what happens when we take the people charged with ruthlessly keeping us (and our leaders) safe, and turn them into civilized, emasculated, hall monitors. Something’s gotta give.