The most difficult task I ever grappled with was learning how to effectively secure the life of the president of the United States as a Secret Service agent in the Presidential Protective Division.
With the inauguration right around the corner, President-elect Trump’s Secret Service detail will have to grapple with the following obstacles:
1. The inauguration
I was one of the advance agents from the Presidential Protective Division tasked with designing and implementing the security planning for Barack Obama’s January, 2009 inauguration. I was also assigned to the 2005 inauguration of George W. Bush in a support capacity. Sadly, both the 2001 and 2005 Bush inaugurals were marred by protests, egg throwing, arrests, and a number of attempts to disrupt the inaugural motorcade route. And, although these protestors clearly had the right to protest, they did not have the right to throw objects and disrupt the security plan. It’s not a partisan talking-point but a harsh reality that many on the far-left have embraced the politics of destruction and violence as a strategic political weapon. The Barack Obama 2009 inauguration saw almost none of this type of activity with only isolated misconduct incidents and infamous logistics failures such as the “Purple Tunnel of Doom” disaster. I derive absolutely no pleasure in telling you that the far-left presents more challenges to the security planners at a Republican event than the Right does at a Democrat event but, history doesn’t tell tall tales.
Protesting is, thankfully, a constitutionally protected activity, but it does suck up security assets like a manpower vacuum because the threat of any protest turning violent requires that the protests be monitored and, as recent history has unquestionably shown us, many Trump protestors are only a hair trigger away from turning violent at a rally. The Secret Service is going to have to deal with this reality and build their security plan around what will assuredlybe significant protest activity on Inauguration Day.
2. Social media threats
President-elect Trump wasn’t the first political candidate to use social media as a force multiplier, but he was the first to do so by adding a personal touch to such an enormous and attentive social media audience. The media made Donald Trump’s tweets the focus of legions of news stories and drew a corresponding amount of attention to Trump’s account, amplifying his audience and, paradoxically, enabling him to use those social media platforms to get his message out and bypass traditional media gatekeepers. I don’t know what President-elect Trump’s future plans are with regard to social media but I would be surprised if he abandoned his signature communication vehicle.
This is going to require a different kind of approach to keeping him safe.
If he continues to tweet, albeit with the understanding that the tweets now carry the weight of presidential communications, they will likely elicit some furious feedback from his political enemies. Unfortunately, many of the responses to his social media posts will be threats. All of these threats will have to be “run out” (investigated) as we used to say in the Secret Service. This is going to cause an unprecedented drain on the Secret Service’s very limited protective intelligence assets (the agents who investigate threats to Secret Service protectees). Although I am now, and will always be, a vocal supporter of limited government, there is simply no way to squeeze twenty pounds of presidential threat investigations into a five pound investigative bag. The agents needed to investigate this potential tidal wave of threats will have to be taken away from criminal investigative assignments. It may be a good time to have a bigger conversation about scrapping some of the Secret Service’s current tasks and re-prioritizing protection, major events, and protective intelligence.
3. Technology and weapons
The Secret Service culture is heavily resistant to change, especially regarding new technology. Another former agent friend of mine summed it up with the quip “the Secret Service: Yesterday’s technology-tomorrow.” The Secret Service is still using decades-old manpower hour management programs and it still requires its agents to waste hours of precious time each month on unnecessary paperwork and bureaucratic hoop-jumping. Applying an outsider’s business perspective, in the model of a President-elect Trump, to this process could clean this mess up quickly and free up Secret Service agents to do their jobs, not making multiple photocopies of a time and attendance report.
Secondly, the Secret Service MUST update its weapons capabilities to reflect the evolving threat of a small arms tactical assault from a terror group. Rank-and-file agents have been complaining about the Secret Service’s insufficient weapons capabilities for years, and the transition to 5.56 from the 9mm sub-machinegun took way too long. Every Secret Service agent assigned to a protective mission — from those temporarily assigned as post-standers, to the agents permanently assigned to the president — should be equipped with the necessary weapons and training to be able to defend themselves and the president from this evolving terror threat. And while the Secret Service’s main mission is to evacuate the president, not to engage in wild-west-type gun fights, they must have the ability to stave off a prolonged tactical assault by a small group of well-armed and suicidal terrorists who will only be stopped by applying an equal amount of force.
Donald Trump ran a different kind of campaign, with a different kind of political strategy. This is going to require a different kind of approach to keeping him safe. God bless those involved in the effort.