SECRET SERVICE AGENTS: POPE'S LIFE AT RISK IN U.S. -- Members of presidential detail issue warning and discuss mass exodus of top agents under Obama
NEW YORK – Members of the president’s Secret Service detail have confided to WND concern that they cannot adequately protect Pope Francis in the United States under current plans that include allowing the pope to ride through crowds next week in Washington and New York in an open vehicle.
The agents’ concerns about the Sept. 22-27 papal visit are compounded, they say, by an ongoing environment in which politically correct management decisions compromise the elite recruitment and excellence for which the Secret Service was distinguished when it was managed by the Department of Treasury. The Secret Service is now under the Transportation Security Administration, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.
WND has confirmed that several Secret Service agents currently assigned to papal security for the upcoming visit are seeking to transfer to other federal government agencies, because discipline and morale has deteriorated to dangerous levels under current TSA management.
“Secret Service are fleeing in droves seeking security positions in other government agencies,” one Secret Service source for this article told WND on condition of anonymity.
“It’s not just those on POTUS detail, it’s the specially trained Secret Service, those we are least able to lose, who are leaving in record numbers. And the pressure put on us by the security restraints of the pope’s visit aren’t helping the situation at all,” the source said.
Another Secret Service source noted Francis is “a pope who wants to be seen by the people.”
“He wants to mingle with the crowd, kiss the babies and be accessible to the sick and elderly,” the source said. “With what Vatican security is demanding we do politically, protecting the pope in the U.S. visit is going to be a nightmare.”
Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, head of the House Homeland Security Committee, disclosed Sunday that the United States had disrupted a plot against Pope Francis in advance of his trip. Fox News provided more details Tuesday, reporting a 15-year-old inspired by ISIS was arrested in the Philadelphia area in August.
Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent on presidential detail, told WND he shares the concerns.
“Because of the way Pope Francis wants his security handled, with a more discrete presence, the pope’s visit to the United States is a security disaster,” said Bongino, a Fox News commentator and author of the WND Books bestseller “Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away from It All.”“
“There is no person in the world with a higher threat profile than the pope,” he said. “If Vatican security insists on the pope riding through crowds in an open Popemobile with minimal security presence running alongside, the Secret Service concern is legitimate.”
Bongino also agreed that Secret Service morale has deteriorated under DHS management.
“When I first joined the Secret Service back in 1999, people leaving for reasons other than retirement were unheard of,” Bongino noted. “Under DHS, management attrition has been through the roof when people don’t feel they are being backed up by management, and there’s no question morale has gone downhill.”
Bongino said that at DHS, “too many of the Secret Service management are worried about their second careers, planning to leave DHS and set up multi-million dollar security companies,.”
“So your interests managing Secret Service under DHS have become not managing Secret Service, but not upsetting DHS,” he said.
Several of the Secret Service agents on POTUS detail speaking with WND for this article expressed their concern the mere publication of the article would trigger reprisals from DHS management.
“Every time an article critical of the Secret Service shows up in print, we get hammered by DHS management,” one of the agents serving as a source for this article told WND. “Even when the story is about the guys at the top of DHS management screwing up with the Secret Service, the blow-back is always on the rank-and-file, including the Secret Service who put their lives on the line protecting the president.”
Despite several requests, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee responsible for Secret Service oversight, declined to comment for this article.
According to the Vatican press office, a Jeep Wrangler, manufactured by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, with a glass-front roof and open sides, similar to the Popemobile that Pope Francis used in Ecuador in July, was shipped in August to the Secret Service for safekeeping.
“The Vatican’s decisions on the pope’s security are putting the Secret Service in an unworkable situation,” Bongino said. “The Vatican is setting up the Secret Service to fail, and if anything happens to the pope, people are going to blame the Secret Service, not Vatican security.
“If I were directing the Secret Service, I would take the political risk and issue an ultimatum insisting to Vatican security that we at the Secret Service were going to set the security rules for the pope’s visit, otherwise we cannot insure a safe environment for him in the United States,” Bongino said.
According to the official schedule, the pope will ride in the Popemobile at the following events:
- In Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, after leaving the White House, he will travel in the Popemobile along 15th Street, Constitution Avenue and 17th Street N.W., with people invited to line the streets around the Ellipse and the National Mall. The Secret Service plans to open gates for the Ellipse and National Mall from 4 a.m. until 10 a.m.
- In New York City, Sept. 25, at 5 p.m., Pope Francis is scheduled to travel via motorcade through Central Park, traveling on Central Park’s West Drive between 72nd and 60th Street. Tickets will be given away to residents of New York state over the age of 18. Gates are open for security screening between noon and 3 p.m.
- In Philadelphia, Sept. 26, at 7:30 p.m., the pope plans to attend the Festival of Families, to take place on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The family-themed event includes exhibits open to the public, with no special provisions for tickets or screening so far announced.
- In Philadelphia, Sept. 27, at 4 p.m., Francis is scheduled to celebrate the closing mass for the World Meeting of Families 2015. Some 400,000 are expected to attend the event, which is open to the public.
‘Not since JFK’
“My experience in situations such as this, where protectees prefer a low-key approach, (Hillary Clinton’s U.S. Senate run in New York comes to mind) is that security takes a back seat to concerns about the ‘optics’ of the security,” he wrote.
“Worrying about how the security operation ‘looks’ rather than how the security operation functions, is a recipe for failure, and I wish the Secret Service protectees understood this before declaring that they want to be more ‘accessible.’”
Bongino wrote that the Secret Service security model is “accustomed to working with crowds and granting those crowds accessibility, within reason.”
“With the current macro-threat environment (threats not specific to the Pope) from ISIS, Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and other terrorist groups, combined with the number of very specific threats from these groups, and other independent actors looking to do harm to the Pope, this is not time for concerns about ‘visuals’ and ‘optics,’ it’s time to focus on a responsible, comprehensive security plan that will ensure that the world’s billions of Catholics can enjoy the visit and not concern themselves with the Pope’s safety.”
In December, WND reported a Secret Service expert’s worry about President Obama’s safety. ” Vincent Michael Palamara noted that JFK’s fateful journey through the streets of Dallas, Texas, in November 1963 was the last time the Secret Service allowed a president of the United States to ride in an open limo in public.