Standing on a barricaded sidewalk with a handful of residents in a quiet, upscale Gold Coast neighborhood last week, I watched President Obama’s motorcade drive by on its way to a private fund-raising event.
Six Chicago Police Department motorcycles with their blue lights flashing headed a motorcade resembling some kind of mobile military fortress. Another 26 vehicles flanking the one carrying the president paraded by, including a small truck, several vans carrying the press pool, an ambulance, then SUV after SUV — including one with its back hatch open, revealing agents bearing visible weapons.
My first thought: a 26-vehicle motorcade to a private, $50,000 a ticket fund-raiser, but they don’t lock the front door to the White House?
That was among the most shocking revelations to emerge last week from a congressional hearing where U.S. Secret Service Director Julie Pierson was skewered over a series of troubling security lapses, which eventually led to her resignation.
Pierson told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Tuesday the front door would now automatically lock in cases of a security breach such as the one last month where a knife-wielding intruder jumped the fence outside the White House, then made it inside the Executive Mansion. An agent was attempting to lock the door when the man knocked him over and ran through much of the main floor before being tackled.
They were lucky he only carried a knife.
Contrast that with Obama’s visit to Chicago earlier this year. To make way for the president’s transport during rush-hour, Lake Shore Drive was shut down. In both directions.
City residents and commuters howled at being at a standstill for more than an hour. That entire area of the city was paralyzed.
During these visits, at great taxpayer expense, the president is laboriously moved from location to location, barricades are put up, helicopters flown, local police are on watch.
We’re expected to swallow anger and complaints because it’s for the safety of the president, right?
Well that’s what makes the Sept. 16 security breach especially infuriating.
On a visit to the Centers for Disease Control last month in response to the Ebola virus scare, Obama rode on an elevator with a convicted felon, who was armed.
“When a supervisor from the firm providing security at the CDC approached and discovered the agents’ concerns, the contractor was fired on the spot,” the Washington Post reported. “Then the contractor agreed to turn over his gun — surprising agents, who had not realized that he was armed during his encounter with Obama.”
So on the one hand, we have a presidential security detail that’s so excessive, 25 vehicles need to surround the president’s, but on the other, we allow an armed felon within inches of the leader of the free world?
The next Secret Service Director will have big issues to tackle. Reports these last couple of weeks detailed a culture within the agency that rewarded those who didn’t admit to lapses. They’ve also detailed a 6,700-member agency that’s battling morale and turnover issues.
But it’s also OK to start small.
For starters, let’s lock the front door.