The Secret Service Scandal as Intelligence Exploitation
By William Tucker
Whenever the president of the United States travels, he has a large body of personnel tagging along for the trip. Of course this includes his Secret Service detail, but also includes members of the military, advisers, staffers, communications specialists, etc. Because of the trappings of office, and the responsibilities that come with leading the world’s sole superpower, the president is perhaps the most well connected human being on the planet. This takes a lot of manpower and expertise to maintain. To facilitate these movements, different agencies send advance teams to locations that the president will visit to ensure the trip goes smoothly and he can communicate with whomever he needs to. As you might imagine, this is an intense and stressful process for those individuals who make the president’s travels possible. During a campaign season this is doubly so. As unfortunate as it is to say, the unbecoming behavior of a few Secret Service and military members should not have come as a surprise. An article in today’s Washington Post stated the following, “Of course it has happened before” said one agent not implicated in the matter, remarking on the Secret Service’s history of occasionally licentious partying. “This is not the first time. It really only blew up in this case because the [U.S. Embassy] was alerted.” Keep in mind, however, the actions of a few, no matter how frequent, don’t always extend to every member of a particular agency.
Though the actions of these individuals are hardly unique, there are other, nonmoral, issues at stake. The security and safety of the president is chief among these concerns, however the information and the people the president has access to can certainly be put at risk as well. That this type of behavior has occurred in the past may not have been known to the U.S. public, but was almost certainly known by foreign intelligence services who would be looking to exploit the situation. As Senator Grassley told Radio Iowa, “We’re looking at something that is very, very serious when national security might not be protected properly. Who knows who might be using prostitutes? The Russians are famous for that to get information out of us.” Why the Senator chose to single out Russia is unknown (hopefully he didn’t give anything away from the current investigation), but the use of prostitutes in intelligence gathering operations is fairly standard practice. If this was an intelligence gathering operation, and there is no evidence available publically to support that, the potential damage could have substantial. National security information, dealings with foreign governments, or even unflattering gossip could have been collected, and exploited by a foreign government. There is precedent for this. When president Clinton carried on his affair with Monica Lewinsky he didn’t use a secure telephone line. These phone calls were intercepted by a foreign intelligence service out of an Embassy in Washington.
Each year the level of connectivity that our politicians require increases. As commander in chief, the president requires a level of access to people and information that is daunting to maintain. When that access increases, so do the possible vulnerabilities. The desire to exploit those vulnerabilities are evidenced by the sophisticated cyberattacks and other intelligence collection efforts that the U.S. faces daily. The weakest link in all of this is still the human element. Unfortunately, even those who are sworn to protect the president are not immune from the oldest types of exploitation in pursuit of these collection efforts. Thankfully that doesn’t appear to have occurred in this case (the jury is still out on this), but hopefully it will lead to reforms in management and improved discipline among those entrusted with U.S. national security.
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