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Did the Secret Service make mistakes on September 19th?

2 min read

Let's suppose the answer is no.

The President has just taken off in a helicoper, which the Secret Service knows. A single man hops the fence; alarms immediately go off. A guard with a sniper rifle on top of the White House decides that this isn't an urgent deadly threat, and decides not to fire. Guards start to run towards the fence jumper and the guard in the dog house decides, because other Secret Service guards are likely to reach the jumper, releasing the Belgian Malinois isn't necessary and risks injuring the jumper or, inadvertently, one of the guards. Against the odds, the jumper makes it inside the building, surprising one of the guards next to an alarm that didn't go off.* When a guard catches up to him in the East Room, he tackles him to the ground and he's arrested.

Consider the alternatives, some of which have been demonstrated by law enforcement personnel in recent months. A mentally unstable man in St. Louis, no apparent threat to anyone around him, holds up a knife to police who have arrived seconds before and is shot 12 times, dying on the scene before being handcuffed.

As an Intercept columnist put it this morning:

Nobody got killed. Remember, that’s a good thing.

I think many people are, rightly, concerned about the symbolism of intruders making it inside the White House. But I think the symbolism here is right: the Secret Service protect the President and the staff in a professional and efficient way and they don't kill anyone unless absolutely necessary. I much prefer that to the symbolism of Federal agents gunning down a mentally unstable individual.

* That that alarm that didn't go off seems to me to be the key mistake that this incident did reveal. I would have suggested the following response to an usher's request to disable the alarm because it was loud/distracting:

We understand the alarm can be loud and share your concern about false alarms, which distract not only from your work but also from our safety mission. I have asked one of our staff to review the alarm configuration to determine whether false alarms can be reduced. In the meantime, however, the internal alarm is an important part of our mission to secure the White House, the staff and the First Family from intruders; it must not be disabled.