The Secret Service has taken its lumps — for agents’ drunken misbehavior, fence-jumpers that got past them, and other missteps — but Monday afternoon was a time for the agency to bask in the spotlight and some much-needed applause from the boss.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson called an afternoon news conference at Secret Service downtown headquarters to praise the struggling agency for its “flawlessly successful” coordination of security for two major and simultaneous events: Pope Francis’ visit to three major U.S. cities and the United Nations’ 70th General Assembly that brought 160 world leaders to New York.
“The Washington press focuses on IG reports, fence jumping and the like,” Johnson said at his conference. “But we need to see the much larger picture… and the massive security effort the Service just pulled off.”
Flanked by Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy, Johnson checked off a list of agency accomplishments and examples of professionalism that stretched from Sept. 22 when the pope’s plane touched down at Andrews Air Force Base until the U.N. General Assembly held its final meeting Oct. 1. The Service, working with a half-dozen other federal agencies, screened 1.3 million people in Philadelphia, New York and Washington for pope-related events and coordinated protection for such high-risk targets as Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“The last two weeks have just been extraordinary,” Johnson said. “I believe its something we should be proud of… And I don’t believe any other agency could have done this.”
Actually, the Secret Service couldn’t have done it alone, as Johnson made clear. He and Clancy thanked their “brother agencies” under the Department of Homeland Security’s umbrella, which loaned thousands of employees and spent countless staff hours to help the Service screen visitors, monitor the air and waterways, and provide extra security at large venues.
Johnson spoke to a room filled with Secret Service officials as well as the top leaders of other participating agencies, such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Transportation Safety Administration, Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Customs and Border Patrol. Reporters and camera crews were at the back of the room behind a rope and allowed to ask four questions.
Despite his effort to focus exclusively on the smooth security planning for these two sizable events, reporters still wanted Johnson’s take on the most recent scandal to beset the Secret Service. An investigation found dozens of Secret Service agents and officials improperly accessed a private agency file about Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a vocal critic of the service, and an assistant director urged making the unflattering information public.
Johnson said he was “very upset” when he first heard about an effort to leak unflattering information about a congressman. Johnson said both he and Clancy had apologized to the lawmaker at the time and again last week with the release of an investigative report summarizing the extent of staff involvement.
Another reporter asked about other news Monday, that the Department’s Inspector General John Roth had announced he is reopening his investigation into the leak to reinterview Clancy. Last week, Clancy said he needed to revise his statements to investigators. He said he now remembers he knew about his staff sharing the Chaffetz information much earlier than he first said.
“There will be an addendum,” Johnson said. Then he let Clancy explain what he described as a memory lapse.
Behind Johnson and Clancy on the dais were eight stoic Secret Service officials, all men, who stood silently the entire conference. The secretary said they deserved special commendations for their key roles in the smooth security planning the last two weeks.
They are: Assistant Director for Investigations Kenneth Jenkins; the Special Agent in charge for the Dignitary Protection Division, Tyler McQuiston; the following five assistant Special Agents in charge, Matthew Lynch, Robert Sciarrone, Max Poux, Mike Breslin and Michael D’Ambrosio; and the Chief of the Uniformed Division, Kevin Simpson.
“Congratulations on a job well done,” Clancy said, to another round of applause.