Saturday, April 14, 2012

Secret Service - Colombia Incident

Twelve US Secret Service agents who were in Colombia for President Obama's visit to that country have been sent back to the US on possible misconduct charges. The agents involved were reportedly members of the  advance team - which would mean that they are assigned to the elite Presidential Protective Division (PPD), the agency arm responsible for the protection of the first family. 

A few points..

1) This incident is embarrassing for the Secret Service and for the country. To have twelve members of an elite law enforcement agency linked to prostitution does not look good (even if it is legal in some parts Colombia). That the incident happened abroad at a major international summit and understandably infuriated the Colombian authorities is also less than ideal. The Secret Service needs the trust and respect of foreign governments in order to operate effectively. Clearly, incidents like this one do not assist that dynamic.

2) This is not unprecedented. In 2002, a similar but more serious incident occurred. However, agents assigned to protection details work in high stress environments that require long hours away from home, a lot of travelling and extremely high professional standards. Though not excusable, this is the context in which agents 'letting off steam' sometimes go too far.

3) The Secret Service is still without question the finest protection force in the world. Agents are trained extensively and are expected to do whatever it takes to succeed in their mission. It is a testament to the Service that so many protectees from Bush and Clinton to the Obamas enjoy speaking of the trust that they have for their agents. Crucially also, the Secret Service is fundamentally non-political; focused absolutely on protecting America's democratic ideals rather than allowing itself to be injected the partisanship of American politics. 

So.. while it is right that Americans should react to today's news with disappointment, we also owe the Secret Service our gratitude and respect. Without them, American democracy would be left vulnerable to the mercy of the violent.

AP - Herald Sun

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