TIME politics

It Shouldn’t Take Another Tragedy To Reform the Secret Service

US-POLITICS-SECURITY-WHITE HOUSE
A member of Secret Service walks on the North Lawn of the White Houes on October 2, 2014 in Washington, DC. US President Barack Obama has appointed former Presidential Protective Division (PPD) director Joe Clancy as interim head of the Secret Service a day after Julia Pierson stepped down from the post. MANDEL NGAN—AFP/Getty Images

Ronald Kessler is the author of The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.

The latest incident underscores how important it is to overhaul the Secret Service and its management culture that fosters cutting corners

At least a dozen times a year, intruders try to jump the White House fence. Many of them succeed. Until Omar Gonzalez penetrated the White House itself, the Secret Service had stopped the intruders before they got inside, as the Secret Service admirably did on Wednesday evening when a Uniformed Division dog took down a fence jumper.

But this recent incident spotlights how foolish it is to keep the White House fence where it is. Many will argue that moving the perimeter to Lafayette Park and closing off access to the public along Pennsylvania Avenue somehow shuts down access to the president. But no one has access to the president without an appointment and being cleared by the Secret Service. The public sees the president almost every day on television. The idea that our rights will somehow be impinged upon by making the White House safer is a myth.

However, the latest incident underscores how important it is to overhaul the Secret Service and its management culture that fosters cutting corners. A report issued this week by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General brings that into vivid focus. The report describes how Secret Service management as part of Operation Moonlight diverted agents on the so-called Prowler team from protecting President Obama at the White House to instead protecting Lisa Chopey, the assistant to then Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, at her home in southern Maryland.

As first reported in my book The First Family Detail, the agents who were diverted to protect Chopey also retrieved confidential law enforcement records on Chopey’s neighbor who had allegedly harassed her. But neither the Secret Service nor the FBI has the authority to protect its own employees. Only when a federal law enforcement officer is threatened or retaliated against as a result of an investigation does such action become a federal offense. As a support employee, Chopey is not a law enforcement officer and was not engaged in an investigation. Thus, retrieving 13 pages of records on the neighbor violated federal criminal laws because the agents had no legitimate law enforcement authority to conduct an investigation of this nature (a point the DHS report failed to note).

Also left unsaid in the DHS report was that one of the purposes of the Prowler team is to look for possible snipers as Marine One lifts off with the president from the White House grounds. On July 1, 2011, Obama and his family left in the helicopter in the late afternoon to go to Camp David, but the Prowler team was nowhere to be found. Instead, the team had been diverted to protect Chopey in southern Maryland.

As if that is not shocking enough, the DHS report quotes Secret Service management and former director Sullivan as defending the decision to divert agents from protecting the president. They claimed the diversion did not impinge on the president’s safety. That, along with the comment by former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson that Secret Service uniformed officers exercised “tremendous restraint” in not taking out Gonzalez even though he penetrated the White House, pinpoints both the arrogance and the negligence of the Secret Service today.

The Secret Service agents involved in Operation Moonlight were fully aware that they were breaking the law, but they felt that their jobs were on the line, a Secret Service agent who asked not to be quoted by name for fear of reprisals told me for the book. The agents “obtained all this information illegally and kept it and were told not to talk about it outside the squad,” the agent says. “They kept records at the duty desk and made agents on every shift initial that they had gone all the way out to southern Maryland to check on the woman’s welfare on the taxpayer dollar.”

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has appointed a four-person panel to recommend security improvements at the White House and to suggest a new director. One development the panel should explore are so-called non-lethal weapons such as ear-splitting sound and high-energy beams that are used to protect our nuclear facilities. And the panel should recommend an outside director such as a former FBI official to change the management culture that encourages cover-ups and brazenly defends the indefensible.

This time, the Secret Service succeeded in apprehending a fence jumper. The next time, it may not. It took the assassination of President Kennedy to substantially upgrade the Secret Service the last time. It should not take another tragedy to reform the Secret Service now.

Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME National Security

U.S.: 1 American Released From North Korea

Jeffrey Fowle
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea speaks to the Associated Press, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wong Maye-E—AP

(WASHINGTON) — Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans being held in North Korea, has been released, the State Department said Tuesday.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Fowle was on his way home Tuesday after negotiators left Pyongyang. Fowle is from Miamisburg, Ohio. Harf said the U.S. is still trying to free Americans Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae.

Associated Press journalists in Pyongyang spotted the U.S. government plane at the capital’s international on Tuesday.

Washington has tried for months to send a high-level envoy to North Korea to seek release of the three men.

Analysts say North Korea has previously used detained Americans as leverage in its standoff with the U.S. over its nuclear and missile programs, a charge that Pyongyang denies.

TIME National Security

More Americans Say Boots Are Needed on the Ground to Fight ISIS

Syrian Kurds Battle IS To Retain Control Of Kobani
Smoke billows following an airstrike by US-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and militants from Islamic State, on October 14, 2014 as seen from the outskirts of Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border. Gokhan Sahin—Getty Images

Many believe the air campaign is not enough, a poll finds

More and more Americans say combat ground troops need to be deployed to take the fight to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to a recent poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

Approximately 41% of Americans surveyed said the military campaign against ISIS should include “air strikes and combat troops,” compared with the 35% who said the offensive should be constrained to aerial bombardments. Of the individuals polled, just 15% said they believed no military action should be taken against the radical Islamist group.

The findings represent a reversal in public opinion since a similar poll was taken in September, when 40% of those surveyed only backed air strikes and 34% were in favor of the use of aerial assaults and combat troops together.

Coalition bombers and fighter jets continued to batter ISIS positions across Iraq and Syria this week. U.S. Central Command confirmed that American aircraft and those from partner nations launched 22 strikes in Syria and at least one aerial assault in Iraq on Tuesday.

Read next: The FBI Wants Your Help IDing American ISIS Fighters

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 14

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Fix the system, don’t fight individual diseases: Why Ebola may change how aid dollars are spent on healthcare in Africa.

By Lesley Wroughton at Reuters

2. Plan for a global body to regulate the great promise of genetics — balancing unfettered innovation with sensible rules to prevent abuse.

By Jamie F. Metzl in Foreign Affairs

3. Because it increases disease and exacerbates resource scarcity, the Pentagon sees climate change as a threat multiplier.

By Laura Barron-Lopez in the Hill

4. The U.S. should call out Egypt’s rising authoritarian leadership and the plight of repressed people there.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post

5. Successful community collaborations build civic confidence for increasingly audacious projects that can improve lives.

By Monique Miles in the Collective Impact Forum blog

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Military

Ex-Blackwater Chief Urges Hired Guns to Take on ISIS

Blackwater Founder & XE Worldwide Chairman Erik Prince Interview
Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater Andrew Harre—Bloomberg/Getty Images

If Obama won’t send in troops, he says, time to send in mercenaries

The man who founded and ran Blackwater—the company that sent thousands of private workers into Afghanistan and Iraq—says President Barack Obama should hire a mercenary corps to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

“The American people are clearly war-fatigued,” writes Erik Prince, now the chairman of Frontier Services Group, a company that provides logistical support for much of Africa. “If the Administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job.”

Some Americans might be willing to write private fighters a check (Prince himself has reportedly been linked to developing a mercenary force for the United Arab Emirates). But Blackwater—which earned more than $1 billion in Iraq—shows the dangers inherent with subcontracting out war. Its guards killed 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007; a jury continues to deliberate the fate of four ex-employees implicated in the shooting.

One of its top officials in the Iraqi capital allegedly threatened to kill a State Department employee who had questions about its contracts with the U.S. government. And U.S. military officers routinely grumbled about the lack of “unity of command” that Blackwater’s presence in Iraq created. But that wouldn’t be a problem if there were no U.S. troops around.

Prince sold Blackwater Worldwide in 2010. The company changed its name to Xe a year before he sold it, and changed it again, to Academi, in 2011. In June, Academi merged with rival firm Triple Canopy to form Constellis Holdings, Inc. Constellis’ board includes John Ashcroft, attorney general under President George W. Bush, Bobby Ray Inman, a retired admiral and former director of the National Security Agency, and Jack Quinn, counselor to President Bill Clinton.

Prince echoes many U.S. military officers when he says “the President’s current plan seems half-hearted at best.” Air power will not be able to go into Syrian towns like Kobani—which ISIS has been fighting to take for three weeks—and root them out. The militants increasingly are taking cover among civilians, knowing that the U.S. and its allies will not obliterate buildings where innocent civilians may be mixed in among the jihadists.

“Clearing operations ultimately fall to the foot soldier,” Prince writes, but those available aren’t capable of what needs to be done. The Iraqi army “is demonstrably inept after billions spent on training and equipping them.” The Kurds—including those defending Kobani—“now find themselves outgunned, under-equipped, and overwhelmed.”

Prince, a one-time Navy SEAL, doesn’t think much of the way his old service is waging the campaign:

Unfortunately, the DOD has mastered the most expensive ways to wage war, adding only very expensive options to the president’s quiver. Flying off of an aircraft carrier in the north end of the Persian Gulf may be a great demonstration of carrier air power suitable for a high tempo war, but the costs will quickly become staggering, far higher than they need be for what will quickly become a counter-insurgency effort.

The U.S., he implies, could save money by contracting out the ground war he believes is needed. “The private sector has long provided nations around the world with innovative solutions to national defense problems in a variety of ways, from the kinetic to the background logistical support necessary to keep militaries humming,” he writes. “If the old Blackwater team were still together, I have high confidence that a multi-brigade-size unit of veteran American contractors or a multi-national force could be rapidly assembled and deployed to be that necessary ground combat team.”

The Pentagon could hire such personnel “for their combat skills in armor, artillery, small unit tactics, special operations, logistics, and whatever else may be needed,” he adds. “A competent professional force of volunteers would serve as the pointy end of the spear and would serve to strengthen friendly but skittish indigenous forces.”

Prince warns whatever gains the U.S. has achieved in the wars it has fought since 9/11 hang in the balance:

Defeat [in Iraq] was already snatched from the jaws of victory by the rapid pullout of US forces in 2009. Afghanistan will likely go the same way after never truly defeating the Taliban. Now the danger of a half-baked solution in Iraq is that if ISIS isn’t rightly annihilated, they will portray their survival as a victory over the forces of civilization; thus, there is no room for half-measures. The longer ISIS festers, the more chances it has for recruitment and the danger of the eventual return of radical jihadists to their western homelands.

TIME ebola

General: Expect ‘Mass Migration’ to U.S. if Ebola Comes to Central America

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Marine General John Kelly, chief of U.S. Southern Command on March 13, 2014 in Washington D.C. Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

It’ll be “Katie bar the door,” Marine General John Kelly says

The Pentagon’s top commander in South America has warned that if Ebola surfaces in Central America or the Caribbean, there will be a stampede of people heading north across the Rio Grande to the U.S. to escape the disease.

“If it breaks out, it’s literally, ‘Katie bar the door,’ and there will be mass migration into the United States,” Marine General John Kelly, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, said Tuesday. “They will run away from Ebola, or if they suspect they are infected, they will try to get to the United States for treatment.”

According to a Pentagon news summary of Kelly’s comments at the National Defense University in Washington, the four-star general said “there is no way we can keep Ebola [contained] in West Africa.” He made his comments the day before Thomas Eric Duncan died of Ebola in a Dallas hospital after arriving in the U.S. from Liberia.

The disease also can be ferried into the U.S. by human smuggling networks, he added, recalling what a U.S. embassy worker told him about a trip the diplomat made to the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border where he saw a group of men “waiting in line to pass into Nicaragua and then on their way north.” Kelly said the embassy official asked the men where they were from and where they were bound.

“They told him they were from Liberia and they had been on the road about a week. They were on their way to the United States—illegally, of course,” Kelly said. They “could have made it to New York City and still be within the incubation period for Ebola.”

TIME Military

General Who Championed Air Power Challenges Pentagon on ISIS

Clashes between ISIL and Kurdish armed groups in Kobane
Smoke rising from the Syrian town of Kobani Thursday marks where clashes between its Kurdish defenders and ISIS attackers are underway. Emin Menguarslan / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Architect of U.S. air war in Afghanistan says U.S. strikes too limited

Once a United States military effort bogs down, as is now happening in the battle for the Syrian border town of Kobani, two things happen: Pentagon officials explain why what is happening should come as no surprise, and experts carp about how it is a surprise and could be done better.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, explained Wednesday why the U.S. and its allies are basically powerless to stop the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) from taking Kobani, which sits on Syria’s border with Turkey, and the 200,000 residents still living there. ISIS is now reported to control about a third of the town, half of whose population has fled to Turkey. “Airstrikes alone,” Kirby said, “are not going to . . . to save the town of Kobani.”

Them’s fighting words to air power advocates like David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who ran the successful air campaign over Afghanistan in the opening months of the U.S. campaign there.

Deptula responded to Kirby’s comments in an overnight email from Australia:

The issue is not the limits of airpower, the issue is the ineffective use of airpower. According to [The Department of Defense's] own website, two B-1 sorties can deliver more ordnance than did all the strikes from the aircraft carrier Bush over the last six weeks. Two F-15E sorties alone are enough to handle the current average daily task load of airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria.

Wise analysts understand that those blaming airpower for not ‘saving Kobani’ are confusing the limits of ‘airpower’ with the sub-optimization of its application. One can see [ISIS] tanks and artillery . . . in the open on TV, yet the coalition forces for ‘Operation Un-named Effort’ are not hitting them. Airpower can hit those targets and many others, but those in charge of its application are not—that’s the issue—not the limits of airpower.

The airstrikes to date have been very closely controlled, tactical in nature, and reflect the way they have been ‘metered’ in Afghanistan. The process that is being used to apply airpower is excessively long and overly controlled at too high a command level. The situation in Iraq/Syria with [ISIS] is not the same as Afghanistan with the Taliban. What we are witnessing now is a symptom of fighting the last war by a command that is dominated with ground warfare officers who have little experience with applying airpower in anything other than a ‘support’ role.

The situation requires a holistic, complete, air campaign, not simply a set of ‘targeted strikes.’ It requires a well planned and comprehensive air campaign focusing on achieving desired effects at the operational and strategic levels of war.

The coalition should establish 24/7 constant overwatch, with force application on every element of [ISIS] leadership, key infrastructure, forces and personnel—apply unrelenting pressure day and night on [ISIS] throughout Syria and Iraq. Airmen have the capacity, equipment, training, tactics, and knowledge needed for this fight, but airpower needs to be applied like a thunderstorm, and so far we’ve only witnessed a drizzle.

Fighting words, indeed.

TIME Military

No Can Do: The Pentagon Explains Why It Can’t Save a Syrian Town

An allied air strike hits a hill in Kobani Wednesday near where ISIS fighters had planted their flag.
An allied air strike hits a hill in Kobani Wednesday near where ISIS fighters had planted their flag. Aris Messinis— AFP/Getty Images

Limits of air power and lack of allies on the ground doom Kobani

The U.S. military’s motto often seems to be “Can-do!” But the motto at Wednesday’s Pentagon briefing might as well have been “Can-dor”.

That’s because, as the building readied for a visit by President Obama, its spokesman made clear there is little the U.S. military can do to save the more than 200,000 people fighting for their lives in the Syrian town of Kobani, just south of the Turkish border.

It’s strange, as the U.S. war in Afghanistan enters its 14th year, that the U.S. public has this abiding faith that there is nothing the U.S. military cannot do. But it cannot defeat the jihadist fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria as they storm Kobani, Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

“Time matters here,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. That means that while the U.S. and its allies can do little for Kobanis now, they believe they will be able to help them later.

Kurdish leaders in Kobani fear a massacre if ISIS overruns Kobani. But the Pentagon seems unconcerned. “I know of no plans for a humanitarian relief mission in Kobani,” Kirby said. “Many of the residents have already fled.”

The U.S. has been restricted in its ability to battle ISIS for two reasons: it waited for months before taking action, and then—per Obama’s orders—it decided not to commit any U.S. ground troops to the fight. Even a small number of them on the ground in Syria and Iraq could be a major help in improving the lethality of air strikes.

Kirby’s comments about the reach of U.S. military power no doubt echoed what Obama heard later in the day when he met with the nation’s military leaders, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Army General Lloyd Austin, who as head of U.S. Central Command is leading the fight against ISIS.

“There is a broad-based consensus, not just in the region but among nations of the world, that [ISIS] is a threat to world peace, security and order,” Obama said at the Pentagon. “Their barbaric behavior has to be dealt with.”

But the Pentagon spokesman took pains to explain that the limits of air power and the lack of allies on the ground in and around Kobani likely doom it to fall to ISIS. “Airstrikes alone are not going to do, not going to fix this, not going to save the town of Kobani—we know that,” he said. “We don’t have a willing, capable, effective partner on the ground inside Syria.”

The bombing in and around Kobani, while stepped up in recent days, is modest in scope. That, in part, is due to the fact that there are so few targets. “I’m counting 11 strikes just in the last two days,” Kirby said.

“It’s not like we’ve ignored the crisis around this town of Kobani,” he added. “We have hit some dynamic targets, smaller tactical targets there. And we do believe that they have had an effect on [ISIS] in and around that town. [ISIS] does not own Kobani right now.”

Kirby, a Navy surface warfare officer, explained what attacks from the sky can do on their own. “Airpower can have an initial effect on forcing them out of an area or denying them structure, whether it’s hard buildings, or the infrastructure of governance that they have, or revenue,” Kirby said. “You can deny some of that temporarily from the air, but it’s not going to be the long-term fix. The long-term fix is… going to be competent ground forces that can retake territory from them.” That’s more than a year away.

Sure, the U.S. could send in forces that could stop the onslaught, but it’s doubtful that Congress—or the public—would agree with such a move. They were spoiled by 1991’s Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, when a 43-day air campaign was followed by a four-day romp by U.S. ground troops. About 25,000 Iraqis died in the U.S.-led campaign to push them out of Kuwait, compared to 148 U.S. troops.

There’s only one real solution to the problems posed by ISIS, Kirby suggested. “What really has to happen, long term, is good governance in Iraq and good governance in Syria,” he said. “There is an element of strategic patience here that I think everybody needs to consider, all of us, all of you, the American people, everybody.”

Unlike faith in their military, however, strategic patience—or any kind of patience, for that matter—has never been an American trait.

TIME Military

Pentagon to Brief Obama on Grim Battle Against Jihadists

Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani, Oct. 8, 2014.
Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani, Oct. 8, 2014. Umit Bektas—Reuters

Commanders to tell Commander-in-Chief about tough fight to keep key Syrian border town out of ISIS hands

President Barack Obama is heading to the Pentagon Wednesday afternoon for an update on the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and he’s not going to like what he hears. The key Syrian town of Kobani is likely to fall to ISIS fighters in coming days, senior U.S. military officials will tell Obama—and there’s not a whole lot the U.S. and its allies can do to halt the ISIS victory or the expected bloodbath following its collapse.

“We’re not expecting any change to our strategy as a result of today’s meeting,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Wednesday afternoon shortly before the 3 p.m. ET session. “This is going to be a long, difficult struggle.”

An air offensive to protect Kobani from being overrun by ISIS totters on the verge of failure. Stepped-up allied air strikes and Kurdish defenders, armed with only small arms, are fighting up to 9,000 jihadists outfitted with tanks and rockets. But it seems to be too little, too late as ISIS’s black flags rose above an eastern neighborhood Monday and remained flying Wednesday. Kurdish officials have warned that ISIS militants would kill thousands if they prevail.

The fight for Kobani is a key test of a U.S. military strategy limited to air strikes, while its local allies on the ground in Iraq and Syria are proving ineffective or non-existent. Turkish troops with tanks are simply watching from across the border as the battle for nearby Kobani rages. Nearly half of the area’s 400,000 residents have fled to Turkey. U.S. officials are angry that Turkey, a NATO ally, has refused to do more to avert a slaughter, they say largely because of its bloody history with the Kurds. American officials are heading to Ankara to urge Turkish officials to do more.

The second piece of the U.S. strategy is training up to 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels a year to fight ISIS on the ground. But that’s a long-term gambit with no guarantee of success, because many of the rebels are more interested in fighting their three-year old civil war against Syrian strongman Bashar Assad than ISIS.

For now, the jihadists are doing their best to frustrate air strikes by abandoning key outposts and breaking into smaller units. They have given up little ground. The terrorist fighters are moving into civilian areas where they know the U.S. and its allies will not bomb—especially without hard intelligence from on-the-ground scouts they trust. Obama has refused to dispatch such spotters as part of his ban on U.S. ground troops in the conflict.

Obama will be meeting with Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has told Congress he will ask Obama to dispatch U.S. ground troops—especially forward air controllers to call in air strikes—if Dempsey thinks it’s required. Kirby said the Pentagon would not be making such a request of Obama during Wednesday’s meeting.

The growing U.S. frustration has been evident as the U.S. ordered AH-64 Apache helicopters into action beginning Oct. 5 against militant targets in western Iraq. The low-and-slow gunship is better than a jet bomber for attacking moving targets. But that capability also makes its two crewmembers more vulnerable to ground fire. ISIS has shot down a pair of Iraqi choppers in recent days, killing all four pilots aboard.

TIME National Security

The FBI Wants Your Help IDing American ISIS Fighters

Federal Bureau of Investigation

“No piece of information is too small"

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has called on members of the public to help identify fellow citizens who have left or are planning to leave the United States in order to join militant jihadi groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS.

“We need the public’s assistance in identifying U.S. persons going to fight overseas with terrorist groups or who are returning home from fighting overseas,” said Michael Steinbach, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division said in a statement.

In addition to launching an online tip form, the agency released an edited ISIS video which shows a masked man fluently switching between English and Arabic. “We’re hoping that someone might recognize this individual and provide us with key pieces of information,” Steinbach said. “No piece of information is too small.”

The national outreach campaign comes on the heels of a targeted campaign in Minneapolis where agents distributed business cards to community leaders asking for tips about anybody with travel plans to foreign countries where they might join in armed combat.

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