Campaign Puts New Strain on Secret Service

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The U.S. Secret Service expects to borrow more than 2,000 immigration officers and federal airport screeners next year to help guard an ever-expanding field of presidential candidates, while shifting 250 of its own agents from investigations to security details.

Burdened by the White House's wartime security needs, the persistent threat of terrorism and a field of at least 20 presidential contenders, the Secret Service was showing signs of strain even before the Department of Homeland Security ordered protection for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as of May 3, the earliest a candidate has ever been assigned protection in an election season.

Its $110 million-plus budget for campaign protection -- two-thirds more than the record $65 million it spent for the 2004 election -- was prepared when the service did not expect to be guarding Obama or anyone else until January. The agency has already been forced to scale back its efforts to battle counterfeiting and cybercrime.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has doubled the number of officials granted Secret Service protection, from 26 to 54, including top White House aides such as the chief of staff and national and homeland security advisers.

As recently as the beginning of Bill Clinton's administration in 1993, no White House aides had such security details, although coverage had been extended before and was given later to national security advisers Brent Scowcroft, Anthony Lake and Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, said former Clinton and Bush counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke.

And while the 2008 campaign gets going, the service is also gearing up for January 2009, when President Bush is set to leave office; officials are mindful of the 1993 assassination effort by Iraq against his father, former president George H.W. Bush. The service has begun training agents to fill 103 full-time slots as to be part of the current president's retirement detail.

"You've just ticked off what you might say are unprecedented challenges," said David G. Carpenter, formerly the head of Clinton's Secret Service detail and assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security and now vice president of global security for PepsiCo.

The stresses come as the agency's duties have grown faster than its funding.

Founded as part of the Treasury Department in 1865 to combat counterfeiting and tapped in 1901 as guardian of presidents, the service is best known for protecting individuals. By law, the agency guards presidents, vice presidents, candidates, their families and visiting heads of state. The president can also extend protection by executive memorandum.

But the service has taken on added homeland security jobs in recent years, such as screening White House mail and coordinating security at national events such as presidential conventions and Super Bowls. And while its budget has grown 50 percent since 2001, the number of agents, uniformed officers and support staff has increased by about 20 percent, to 6,500.

"The protection work of the Secret Service has grown in magnitude and complexity since 9/11. . . . The number of protectees under your responsibility has doubled since 2002. At the same time, the global war on terror is driving up the intensity of your protective operations," Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) told Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan at a March hearing on his $1.4 billion 2008 budget proposal. "Your already stretched personnel and resources are going to be stretched even further."

Saddled with new duties, the agency is cutting back its traditional work on financial fraud and cybercrime.

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