The Secrets of the Secret Service

For more than 137 years, the Secret Service has presented an image to the world of bravery, excellence, and patriotism.

By and + More

In August 1999, Washington police were called to Lulu's Bar in Washington, "where every day is Mardi Gras," as the bar proclaims. Two men had gotten into an altercation in the restroom, patrons said, and it ended in a shooting that left both men injured. One was an Air Force enlisted man. The other was Secret Service Agent Manuel Puente, recently transferred to join the PPD. The injuries were not life threatening. Puente was told to leave the force. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

In October 1999, Kenneth Blake, a thief who scoured Chicago-area hotels to steal handbags, dropped in at the Fairmont Hotel, where then first lady Hillary Clinton was staying. Secret Service Agent Mary Drury, a member of the Clinton detail, was at a hotel bar with another agent around 11 p.m., in violation of a strict service policy against agents drinking while carrying a gun. When Blake pilfered her purse, he took her .357-caliber Sig Sauer service weapon. It was the second time Drury had lost her gun, several knowledgeable sources say, and she had been promoted a grade between the first and second incident. In another incident, in 1993, Drury was driving home from a Chicago bar when she rammed her government car into a Chicago Transit Authority bus so hard that several items flew out of the trunk. Drury has not received any significant sanction from the Secret Service. Drury did not return phone calls. The service declined to comment. Blake received a 40-month prison term.

Law enforcement is among the world's most demanding professions, and given their unique responsibilities, Secret Service personnel can face higher stress levels than most cops. Special agents outside Washington spend long stretches away from their families, traveling for at least 30 days every 10 weeks. Many in the capital say they're burned out from the long hours they've put in since September 11. Many uniformed officers have been told they must work on one of their normal days off. Agents posted at the service's 118 field offices nationwide regularly wind up dropping criminal investigations they're working on to take their turn on the PPD in Washington. If an agent working with or on the PPD is exhausted, angry, or compromised in some way, current and former agents worry, it could jeopardize the safety of the president or other protectees.

The concerns are not ill founded. Several years ago, members of Clinton's protective advance team were alarmed to find that an unidentified group was following them and tracking their movements. Current agents declined to discuss any protective matters, but several sources say that since then, the Secret Service has implemented a new policy of sending a separate team of agents to watch the backs of the agents doing the advance planning for trips by high-level protectees. They have modeled their new security plan on the British Secret Service.

FITNESS FOR DUTY

Threats like that, even before September 11, are precisely why so many still in the service, and others who have recently left, are concerned by the lapses they say they're seeing now. In just the past few months, there have been several instances of Secret Service agents' driving under the influence of alcohol, even to their posts at the White House. One agent received no punishment. The other agent was taken off the PPD. He had had a previous incident involving alcohol, sources say, an incident that not only went unsanctioned but that didn't prevent a promotion to the president's detail. In the San Diego bar-fight incident, the service says, it took no formal disciplinary action against the agents. According to a 20-page report by the Treasury Department's inspector general, the Secret Service has tolerated alcohol-related misconduct by employees. In August 1995, according to the report, an officer received a "fitness for duty" exam only after four incidents of suspected drunken driving in an eight-month period. In one of those cases, police at the scene confiscated the officer's service weapon for fear of what the officer might do. Still, the officer remained on the force—until he was convicted, in February 1999, of driving while intoxicated. Only then did the service issue him a "proposal for removal" for "conduct unbecoming" an officer. Other details of the case could not be learned.