This story was republished on April 20, 2012
On Oct. 8, 1993, Secret Service Special Agent Kenneth Banner was working a fraud investigation in Los Angeles when he got a call from a female informant named Akilah Ife Hasan. She was a small-time crook with a long rap sheet, a modest talent for scams, and an unfortunate weakness for drugs. Hasan had some dirt on a case Banner was working, she said. Banner, a supervisor in the Secret Service's L.A. office, agreed to meet Hasan at a lounge called the Current Affair. One thing led to another, and the agent and informant wound up sharing drinks, then returning to Banner's Inglewood apartment for sex. Afterward, when Hasan didn't return from a visit to the bathroom, Banner went and found her on the floor, lifeless, according to a police report. He called paramedics, who transported Hasan's nude body to a local hospital. Hasan, 43, had died of a brain hemorrhage in Banner's apartment because of a "history of cocaine abuse," police and coroner's reports said. Police concluded there was no foul play. Banner, now a private investigator, acknowledged to U.S. News that an incident took place. But despite the official reports, he said, "No one died at my residence. That did not happen."
In Houston two years ago, Secret Service Agent Sonna Prince Young tapped an old school pal who worked in the Texas state attorney general's office to help her steal money from a federal welfare program meant to feed poor kids. Court documents show that Young was illegally approved for the food vouchers, even though her combined annual income with her husband was more than three times as high as the eligibility level. She pleaded guilty to one count in federal court and was put on probation, fined $ 250, and ordered to pay $ 288 in restitution. She left the service.
This February, a team of Secret Service agents assigned to Vice President Cheney's protective detail on a visit to the San Diego area finished their shift and decided to wind down at a local bar. The outing ended in a drunken brawl between four Secret Service agents and a horde of locals outside a lounge called the Daley Double. During the fracas—in which the agents were outnumbered 15 to four and had to flee on foot—one of Cheney's agents bit off the tip of one of the locals' ears. It was never recovered. Police were summoned to sort things out, and the officers filed a report listing the agents' address—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.
For more than 137 years, the Secret Service has presented an image to the world of bravery, excellence, and patriotism. Few who saw it will ever forget Special Agent Timothy McCarthy taking a bullet, or Jerry Parr hurling his body on top of President Reagan, as John Hinckley emptied his .22-caliber revolver outside a Washington hotel two decades ago. Or Special Agent Rufus Youngblood covering Lyndon Johnson's body with his own after Lee Harvey Oswald opened fire with his Mannlicher-Carcano sniper rifle in Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Created in 1865 as a tiny Treasury Department agency to root out counterfeit-currency rings, the Secret Service was given the mission of protecting presidents more than 35 years later. Today, the Secret Service's protective mission extends to all retired presidents, the vice president, visiting heads of state, foreign missions, and a host of executive branch offices and residences. Just last week, President Bush proposed moving the Secret Service into a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.
Over the years since the Secret Service assumed its protective duties, thousands of plainclothes agents and officers in the agency's Uniformed Division have proudly upheld its official motto, "Worthy of Trust and Confidence." In 1999, in a speech dedicating the Secret Service's new headquarters in Washington, where the motto is boldly emblazoned, President Clinton lauded the values the service embodies. "Regardless of the times or the tasks," said Clinton, "there has always been a thread of honor and integrity, trust, and true, confident performance."
But a U.S. News investigation shows that, at a time when the stakes for the Secret Service are higher than ever, the agency is rife with problems and resistant to oversight and correction. The troubles range from alcohol abuse and misuse of government property to criminal offenses and allegations of extramarital relationships by Secret Service personnel with White House employees. In response to questions from U.S. News, the Secret Service provided a detailed, four-page letter but declined to make senior managers, including Director Brian Stafford, available for interviews. "The Secret Service takes any allegations of breaches of professional conduct seriously and has a long history of addressing such issues," wrote Assistant Director Paul Irving, who heads the Office of Government and Public Affairs. Irving acknowledged that "without question," over the past 25 years, "we have had employees who have been involved in professional misconduct and in some cases, criminal behavior."