"Just tell me when — where — to run."
The book, "In the President's Secret Service," tells stories of men behaving badly, but those men were president or vice president, not agents. For all the bawdy tales of Lyndon Johnson and Kennedy, their protectors are portrayed as loyal if overworked and, with some leaders, underappreciated.
The author, Ronald Kessler, said in an interview that the Colombian episode "is the biggest scandal in the history of the Secret Service" yet, from his knowledge of how agents conduct themselves, "an aberration."
Consorting with prostitutes opened agents to the risk of blackmail or other avenues to eavesdrop on or harm the president, had the women been tied to terrorists or spies, Kessler said. To his mind, that makes the breach worse than the 2009 infiltration into Obama's state dinner by Michaele and Tareq Salahi, a security lapse that could have had grave consequences if pulled off by people other than two social climbers from Virginia.
Whether the Colombian shenanigans were part of a "cultural blueprint," as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina suggested, or closer to the act of "a couple of knuckleheads," as Obama initially put it, will be seen in time.
The service now has issued higher standards of conduct. Supervisors will chaperone certain trips, officers will be told establishments they can't patronize, drinking will be more restricted and they are prohibited from bringing foreigners to their rooms unless they are hotel staff or law enforcement counterparts.
To be sure, no organization has a clean slate and the Secret Service is no exception. In a 2002 story, U.S. News & World Report catalogued a San Diego bar brawl involving agents, the hiring of strippers in Ohio and Miami offices, superiors' tolerance of repeated incidents of suspect drunken driving by an officer, and other bad-apple episodes stretching back years.
Now, secrets, half-truths and pure innuendo spread at light speed in the age of thumb drives, smartphones and tattlers' other digital tools, Dezenhall says, so it's not easy to divine whether an organization's lapses are a departure from the norm or part of a tradition that people never heard about in the pre-digital age.
"So much comes down to somebody with a thumb drive," he says. "It doesn't mean that the inherent behavior is new. It means people who want to come after you now have the goodies to do it."
How does a scandal manager manage that?
Dezenhall says it may take an "organizational CAT scan" of the service's leadership and personnel, not mere public relations spin, to get the agency's reputation back in line with the mythology. "You don't communicate your way out of this stuff."
Secret Service: http://www.secretservice.gov
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