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Unsafe in the White House: Secret Service security debacle tied to America’s racial crisis

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Oct 7, 2014 - 1:10:47 PM

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President Barack Obama, with U.S. Secret Service SAIC Rob Buster, leaves the motorcade at Denver International Airport, prior to departure from Denver, Colorado en route to Dallas, Texas, July 9. Photo: Official White House/Pete Souza

WASHINGTON ( - For two solid weeks, even after disgraced agency chief Julia Pierson was forced to resign, the U.S. Secret Service—tasked by Congress after the 1901 assassination of William McKinley to protect the U.S. president, vice president and their families—dominated newspaper headlines, broadcast news coverage, and social media. The agency virtually melted down into what appeared to be a pool of incompetence, or worse.
Julia Pierson, former Director of the United States Secret Service. Photo: MGN Online

The breaches of security around President Barack Obama—the most threatened commander-in-chief in U.S. history—and at the White House seemed inexplicable. “It will never happen again,” a grim Ms. Pierson told a House oversight committee which confronted her with reports that Army veteran Omar Gonzalez allegedly scaled the 7-foot-high, wrought iron fence on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the executive mansion, and penetrated deeper into the unlocked building than the agency first reported on Sept. 19 when the intrusion occurred.

Mr. Gonzalez apparently cleared the fence, ran across the 150-yard lawn through an unlocked front door, overpowered one officer, ran past an unguarded stairway leading to the First Family’s residence, and was finally subdued by an off-duty officer in the massive East Room, according to The Washington Post.

One day after her Capitol Hill testimony Ms. Pierson resigned, replaced on an interim basis by Joseph Clancy, who headed Mr. Obama’s first protective detail after he took office in 2009. But the flood of revelations of serious—even life threatening security breaches—continued to cascade into public view.

In 2011 the Secret Service botched its response to a shooting, in which a gunman fired several rounds from a semi-automatic weapon pointed from his car on a closed lane of Constitution Avenue, nearly half a mile south of the mansion. One bullet smashed a bullet-proof window, just steps from the residential official living room. At least seven other bullets struck the upstairs residence sending bits of wood and concrete to the ground.

President Obama and Mrs. Obama were out of town that day, Nov. 11, 2011, but younger daughter Sasha, and Mrs. Obama’s mother Marian Robinson were at home at the time, and older daughter Malia returned home from an outing with friends moments later. Uniformed Secret Service officers rushed to respond, according to the newspaper account. One officer directly below the second floor terrace where the bullets struck drew her handgun and prepared to open an emergency gun box. Snipers on the roof, just 20 feet from where the bullets struck, searched for signs of an attack.

A bullet hole is visible on a White House window, Nov. 26, 2011, in Washington.
Then the officers received a surprising order: “No shots have been fired … . Stand down,” a supervisor commanded over his radio. He said a nearby construction vehicle had backfired, causing the noise. After next reporting that gang members had engaged in a shootout—unlikely in that heavily policed, tourist area—police eventually arrested Oscar R. Ortega-Hernandez, charging him in the incident after finding a weapon and 800 rounds of ammunition in his vehicle. The damage was not discovered until four days later by a housekeeper. When First Lady Michelle Obama learned of it from a White House usher, she was described as “furious.”

Just three months after the details of this dangerous breach of the Obama family’s personal security, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan delivered a shocking report during his 2012 Saviours’ Day address. “… despite President Obama’s unqualified statement(s) of ‘unwavering support’ for Israel and Zionism, the owner of the Atlanta Jewish Times, Andrew Adler, wrote in the paper’s January 13, 2012 edition that Israel had three options; the third option being that Israel should consider giving ‘the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel, in order for the current vice president to take his place and forcefully dictate that the United States policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.’ Then, Adler wrote this: ‘Yes, you read [‘three’] correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence …

“Here, a prominent American Jew is suggesting and advocating the assassination of Barack Obama! Where’s the Secret Service? Where’s the FBI? Why didn’t they arrest him? Did they bring him in for questioning? They said they would—but did they? His Jewish brethren jumped on him; chief among them was the head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman. But is it that Andrew Adler made a ‘horrific statement,’ or is it that he exposed the plot too early?” Minister Farrakhan asked rhetorically.

“Mr. Adler made another point that no one is addressing: What is the Israeli Mossad doing based inside America?” the Muslim leader observed.

While most Blacks in this country remain slow to blame Israel, or American Jews directly for White House-Secret Service lapses, there is widespread fear among Blacks that the Secret Service has fallen down on protecting President Obama because of his race.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who is ranking member of the House Oversight Committee which grilled former Secret Service Director Pierson before her resignation told CBS News “Face The Nation” that while he does not personally hold the view, an overwhelming majority of Blacks he’s spoken to, fear the agency has failed the first Black president. “Eighty-five percent of all African-Americans that come to me mention [this fear], and I don’t agree with it,” said Mr. Cummings, who was out front, calling for former Director Pierson to resign.

It is unlikely that Mossad or any other hostile power has infiltrated and compromised the integrity of the Secret Service from within, according to Garland Nixon, who retired after 27 years as a Maryland State Trooper, and who served for seven years after an appointment by that state’s governor to the state’s Homeland Security Review Committee.

“Anything is possible,” Mr. Nixon told The Final Call. “I have worked with the Secret Service. Based on what I’ve seen, I would doubt it. If you were to ask me, what do I think is more likely, incompetence or some kind of plan, I would say incompetence.

“Usually, it’s been my experience with law enforcement agencies—whether it’s federal or state—and you see big problems, we don’t want to believe they can be incompetent to that level, more often than not it is actually incompetence, as opposed to some kind of nefarious plot. But I could never say never, but if you had to ask me, based on my experience, I’d say it’s most likely incompetence,” Mr. Nixon continued. His remarks echoed the comments of Rep. Cummings on CBS, who said a “culture of complacency” plagued the embattled agency.

President Barack Obama addresses United States Secret Service Uniformed Division offi cers before a group photo at the South Portico of the White House, April 4, 2011. Photo: Office White House Photo/ Pete Souza
But, in addition to the fence-jumping incident, there was a rash of troubling security failures by the Secret Service in the two weeks leading up to Mr. Obama’s White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Oct. 1.

On Sept. 26 a man posing as a member of Congress was able to gain access to a secure backstage area for President Obama’s appearance at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation awards dinner, according to Bloomberg news. “The man entered the backstage area during or just after Obama’s speech at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center as members of Congress gathered there to have their pictures taken with the president,” the agency reported, quoting an “official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the incident, which has not previously been made public. The unidentified man said he was Representative Donald Payne Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey, the official said. One member of the White House staff determined that the man wasn’t (Mr.) Payne, and another asked him to leave, the official said. He did so without incident and wasn’t detained.”

The most dangerous incident happened on Sept. 15, during the president’s trip to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. In that incident, an armed contract security guard who has a criminal record was allowed within arm’s length of Mr. Obama on an elevator. The man was questioned by agents after the president left the elevator because the man would not stop taking pictures of Mr. Obama with his cell phone camera.

Making matters worse, the agents did not discover that the man was armed until his supervisor arrived on the scene and terminated the man on the spot, demanding that he surrender his weapon. Furthermore, the agency did not inform either the President or Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson of the incident until moments before it was revealed in a news report.

“Despite the merciless mauling the Secret Service has taken for its bungles, it does as it says take the threats against the president seriously and diligently investigates every one of them. In a few cases, prosecutors have brought charges. But here is the problem, in fact several problems. How seriously do other public officials take them? There have been countless reports, cases, and instances where individuals have posted inflammatory pictures of gun toting armed men with pictures of Obama as a bull’s eye target, protestors carrying signs with violent threats against Obama, and websites that inch perilously close to wishing bodily harm to him,” observed Earl Ofari Hutchison in a piece on Huffington Post.

“Our country is once again risking ‘the fire next time.’ James Baldwin’s dreadful prophecy—a phrase he borrowed from an old Negro spiritual—was published in 1963 when the civil rights movement was approaching its climactic triumph. Yet the novelist’s resonant warning came true a few years later. Cities across America were in flames. This is not a prediction of what is coming, but my fear. We should talk candidly about this risk before it is too late,” warned writer William Greider in a piece published Oct. 6 by The Nation in a blog. The piece was headlined “Why Threats Against Obama Speak Volumes on Race in America.”

“Let me be explicit about what I imagine might occur. If something bad should happen to hurt President Obama or his family, the ‘fire’ could be ignited again by people’s rage and sorrow. Some will object that my warning is inflammatory, but I see silence as a greater danger,” he continued.

“The basic fact is this: there are demented Americans who do want to harm the president and have repeatedly threatened his life. Nobody knows how many or how dangerous they might be. Threats are a standard circumstance for the presidency, but the alarming difference is that threats against Barack Obama have been three times higher than for his predecessors, according to The Washington Post, which first revealed the Secret Service lapses. The explanation is obvious. This president is Black, so is his family.”

Racial incidents, police shootings, protests and divisions are troubling and the GOP has contributed to and benefitted from these racially charged incidents and attitudes, he noted. “I am not accusing the Republican Party and its leaders of plotting to harm the president physically. I am accusing them of deliberately inflaming racist attitudes that might inspire others to commit malicious acts by others,” Mr. Greider said.

Blacks responded in angrily to the incidents, with some, like radio host Tom Joyner, and others online and in social media calling for the Fruit of Islam, the men of the Nation of Islam to protect the president. One altered image on Facebook shows the president surrounded by red bowtie wearing Muslims and the caption: “With the Secret Service Director resigning, Obama gotta fire ayebody else, hit up Farrakhan and get the FOI for his protection detail. Enough is enough!”

“The fact that Obama has had 3x more death threats proves racism is still an awful virus,” tweeted @audreycomber Oct. 1.

Callers into WVON-AM radio in Chicago have been vocal about the security breaches in comments to on-air hosts. Since we have been airing breach of security stories at the White House, callers basically say it’s based on racism and security is just not as tight as it should be, said Sonya Tompkins, producer for the Perri Small Show, which is the Black talk radio station’s midday show.

People are asking why is it so easy for intruders to get into the White House and nothing is done? she said. Why is security so lax and why doesn’t the Secret Service having the training and commitment to know how to protect the president are other concerns, said Ms. Thompkins.

Every Caucasian person seems to be able to get close to the president and it’s ok, but people of color are shot, killed, strangled or whatever, she said. Callers questioned why Miriam Carey, a mentally unstable Black woman who led officers in a chase to Capitol Hill after running into a barricade at the White House, ended up dead for driving crazily but the dogs weren’t even released when the man jumped the fence, the radio show producer continued.

“Where was everybody at that this man could run to the White House and nothing happen?” she asked. The mentally disturbed fence jumper had a weapon and information about the White House, but came out unscathed, Ms. Thompkins noted.

A caller Oct. 6 urged building a brick wall around the White House to protect President Obama but other callers felt security should be doing its job, she said. There is a feeling that since it’s a Black man that Secret Service is not looking to protect him as it should and there is a feeling that the president is not handling the failures as strongly as he should be, said Ms. Thompkins. White callers argue every president faces threats, but Blacks clearly see racism tied to these threats and the failed responses, she said.

(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)