“It was a huge job, but he has always been somebody who could take on complex, major projects,” said Huse, who is retired but keeps in touch with Sullivan.
He quickly rose through the ranks, spending time on the presidential protective detail and overseeing the Columbus, Ohio, field office before joining the ranks of upper management in 2000, when he was promoted to be deputy assistant director of the Office of Protective Operations.
Things changed for the agency in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Security details were beefed up for a greater number of dignitaries. Between 2002 and last year, the agency’s budget nearly doubled, to $1.5 billion, covering 3,500 agents and 1,400 uniformed officers.
In the past fiscal year, the service provided protection to U.S. dignitaries on more than 5,600 domestic and nearly 400 international trips. The agency also operates 142 domestic and 23 international investigative field offices.
“Protecting the president 10 years ago was very different than now,” said Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a former general counsel for the House Committee on Homeland Security. She still works closely with the service as a legislative director for a private-sector consulting firm.
Sullivan has “done a good job making sure the Secret Service is effectively looking at issues like that without wasting money,” she added.
‘Rife with problems’
The culture of the agency was another matter. In 2002, a U.S. News & World Report investigation found a Secret Service “rife with problems and resistant to oversight and correction.”
The magazine cited alcohol abuse, criminal offenses and extramarital affairs between agents and White House employees. Male officers had viewed pornography on White House satellite channels in the mansion, clicking three times into each other’s earpieces to signal when female colleagues were approaching. Supervisors in two field offices had authorized professional strippers at office parties.
The allegations were “thoroughly looked at by the service, but I can’t tell you the exact outcome,” said Basham, who took over the agency in 2003. “Quite frankly, the Bush administration at the time was looking for a change in direction, but it was not anything specifically in all that that they were concerned about.”
Still, in the wake of the Cartagena scandal, some of the dismissed agents contend privately that management tolerated similar rowdiness on other foreign trips. That two supervisors were implicated in the partying has added to the questions of accountability.