The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Secret Service isn’t up to the job. It’s time to give them help from the military.

During wartime, the Secret Service needs the help of the military to do its job effectively.

If the Secret Service couldn’t handle a fence jumper, it’s not prepared for the threat of a coordinated invasion. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

The security breach at the White House last week unfortunately proved that the Secret Service is in over its head protecting the White House. Fence jumping by one person, while a concern, isn’t a major issue in itself. That has been accomplished many times over the history of the White House, usually with benign results. But this time was different. Not only because the fence jumper actually made it into the executive mansion — but because the United States is at war.

Since the end of World War II, the protection of the White House has primarily been the autonomous duty of the Secret Service’s Uniformed Division. It is a police force tasked with patrolling and securing foreign embassies as well as the interior and exterior of the White House. They are among the best police officers in the world, but their numbers are too few and their rules of engagement too passive to adequately protect the White House grounds.

Allowing a fence jumper to enter the White House unimpeded sends a dangerous message to all of our enemies: The Secret Service — either due to insufficient numbers of officers or a lack of decisiveness – does not kill people who force their way into the White House. This message undoubtedly will embolden our enemies, and that’s a serious problem at a time when terrorist groups are planning major attacks on Western soil and coming alarmingly close to carrying them out. Unable to deter even one lightly armed, demented individual from breaching White House defenses and entering the state floor through the front door, the Uniformed Division has proved it isn’t prepared to hold back a coordinated attack on the White House by multiple invaders. They are a law enforcement organization, not a combat unit, and this is war.

There is a way to improve our defense of the White House. While the Secret Service considers creating new fences, large buffer zones and checkpoints around the grounds, they are overlooking a simple, cost-effective solution – bringing in the United States military.

History proves that there is no group of men and women better at wartime protection of the United States’ most important leaders and complexes than the military. It has been doing so – with the threat of deadly force – since its creation during the Revolutionary War. Most recently, about five months after the U.S. entered World War II, the War Department (which was dissolved in 1949) created the U.S. Army Military District of Washington to plan for a ground defense of the nation’s capital. Combat forces were brought in to protect the White House and other government buildings from German and Japanese attack. Troops armed with M1 Garand rifles and Thompson submachine guns were posted at the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and the White House. Anti-aircraft emplacements were set up around the White House as well.

While Congress has not declared war on ISIS and al-Qaeda, U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq – as well as the threats of radical Islamist groups against Americans and our country – make it clear we are indeed at war. In wartime, we must call on our military forces to assist the Secret Service in protecting the president and White House against attack. Had combat troops been in place during last week’s White House breach, the threat would have been easily countered by fixed posts and roving patrols of soldiers or Marines, who are trained to respond immediately to such intrusions with whatever force is deemed necessary.

The Uniformed Division, which was not designed to repel a military-type attack, needs to be beefed up with well-armed, well-trained military personnel.  In addition, the Secret Service needs leadership that fully understands how to balance law enforcement with military force and use them together in harmony. This type of leadership is currently lacking at the Secret Service’s upper level. The current director, Julia Pierson, is a former police officer and has served in the Secret Service for 30 years.  Pierson, while a highly competent and capable agent with an exemplary record, has no military background and, therefore, doesn’t have the needed perspective to lead the organization in wartime. During periods of extreme danger, as we now find ourselves in, we must be willing to admit that otherwise capable and dedicated agents are not right for the job of director.

Pierson should be replaced and the next director should come from outside the Secret Service, with the deputy director remaining an agent. In this role, a true leader, not a bureaucrat, is needed. Someone like Florida congressman and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen West would be perfect for the role. West has successfully demonstrated that he possesses the leadership skills of a combat officer as well as managerial and diplomatic skills of a congressman, exactly the traits needed in the next director. Highly competent and beholden to no one in the Secret Service, he would be a superb director.

The fact is that the Secret Service failed to protect the White House against armed, forced intrusion. There is no mitigating or minimizing of this fact. That Omar Gonzalez was armed with a knife rather than weapons capable of multiple casualties, and that he was not a diversion for a larger attack, merely means that the Secret Service was lucky — very lucky.  In the business of presidential protection, this was a complete failure, and in that business there is never room for failure. Protecting the president of the United States is a mission that should be carried out and presided over by only the most highly qualified individuals. And right now, when we are fighting an enemy that is both capable and determined to attack the homeland, including the White House, those individuals should include the men and women of the U.S. military, working in coordination with the Secret Service.

Also on PostEverything:

I am a 14-year-old Yazidi girl given as a gift to an ISIS commander. Here’s how I escaped.

The Secret Service should be more scared about an assassination attempt. A taller fence just won’t cut it.

What the Islamic State learned from the U.S. about fighting a war.

Correction: Allen West’s name was misspelled in the original version of this piece. It has been corrected.