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Tag: oversight

Sentinel & Enterprise Editorial: Secret Service Needs ‘Drastic Culture Change’

secret-service-3By Editorial Board
Sentinel & Enterprise

Given the apparently bottomless divide separating Republicans and Democrats in Washington these days, anything the two parties agree on must be painfully obvious. One such truth, apparently, is that the U.S. Secret Service is a mess and needs an immediate and drastic culture change.

This is the overarching conclusion of a scathing report issued Thursday by the bipartisan congressional probe of the inner workings of the Secret Service. The arm of government charged with protecting the president, the people who want to be president and other top officials was described by House investigators as an “agency in crisis.” That’s an understatement. Secret Service was once considered an elite protective force, but it has suffered a number of black eyes in the last few years, including humiliating security lapses, and the exposure of scandalous and wildly inappropriate behavior of agents on duty.

If all of this “crisis” talk rings a bell, it’s understandable. In 2014, Joseph P. Clancy was sent in to direct the agency and to facilitate the needed culture shift. Clancy made promises, but the report indicates that House investigators could not see much progress toward reform.

In fact, the report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform detailed security breaches since 2013 that hadn’t been previously disclosed.

For example, at an awards dinner last fall, a man pretending to be a member of Congress walked into a secure backstage area without being properly screened and spoke with President Barack Obama. Five days later, a woman walked backstage unchecked at a gala dinner where Obama was a featured guest. And the list goes on.

To read more click here. 

Other Stories of Interest

New York Times Editorial: More Accountability Needed for Border Patrol

border patrol 3By Editorial Board
New York Times

José Antonio Elena Rodríguez was 16 when he was gunned down on a street in Nogales, Mexico, in October 2012. He was shot several times in the back by a United States Border Patrol agent, firing through the fence from Nogales, Ariz. The boy was unarmed; his family said he had been walking home from a basketball game.

The Border Patrol has insisted that the agent was defending himself from rock-throwers on the Mexican side. But a federal grand jury on Wednesday charged the agent with second-degree murder. The indictment lends credence to what José Antonio’s family and activists on both sides of the border have long insisted: that this was another senseless killing by a member of an agency notorious for the reckless use of deadly force.

The agent’s union has asked the public to withhold judgment, a fair request. But it is fair, too, for others to demand openness and accountability from the Border Patrol in this and other cross-border shootings of unarmed civilians, in which basic information and answers have been sorely lacking.

In José Antonio’s case, the agent’s claim of self-defense would seem implausible to anyone who visits the spot in hilly Nogales where the teenager fell. It is hard to imagine him throwing anything across the road, up a 25-foot embankment and then over the fence and hitting, much less hurting, anybody. A major leaguer might be able to hurl a baseball that far, but a 16-year-old boy with a dangerous rock? No.

There are a number of other cases where border agents were said to have taken dubious and lethal action. A critical 2013 report by the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy group, seriously questioned the Border Patrol’s policies on deadly force — it found that agents would deliberately stand in the way of fleeing cars, to justify shooting at them.

Justice Department to Allow More Oversight over Long-Secret Tracking of Cell Phones

cellphone-tower-photo2By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

In an attempt to get more oversight, the Justice Department said Thursday it will seek more judicial and internal supervision as it uses technology to track cellphones, the Wall Street Journal reports. 

In the past, technology was kept a secret, drawing criticism from privacy advocates, judges and lawmakers.

At issue are cell site simulators, which enables investigators to secretly scan phones.

Under the changes, supervisors would be required to more closely examine the use of the devices. Data collected on innocent Americans also would need to be deleted at least once a day.

Las Cruces Sun-News: Border Patrol Should Not Police Itself After So Many Fatal Shootings

By Editorial Board
Las Cruces Sun-News

Two years ago, a scathing independent report by law enforcement experts found that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency had failed to fully investigate all 67 uses of deadly force, including 19 killings, by its agents from January 2010 through October 2012, most occurring along the southwest border with Mexico.

That report, which accused the agency of a “lack of diligence” in its investigations, put federal officials on the defensive and sparked an internal review. But when the review was finally completed last month, it absolved virtually all the agents in virtually all the shootings. Oral reprimands were apparently issued to two agents, and one case remains open; other than that, no discipline was meted out.

Is that reasonable? An agent who killed an unarmed 15-year-old Mexican boy by shooting him in the face after a rock-throwing incident near El Paso, Texas, was cleared. So was an agent who killed a rock-throwing 17-year-old near Nogales, Ariz.

It’s hard to know whether the agency’s decisions were reasonable. Were it not for leaks to journalists, little of this would even be known, because the Customs and Border Protection agency has tried to keep the report’s findings and the subsequent reviews under wraps. The initial report was released only after the Los Angeles Times reported on its existence. And the internal reviews ended a month ago, yet that fact just came to light — and there are still few details available. That opacity is unacceptable in an open society. How can the public assess government actions if the details are hidden? How are Americans to determine whether justice is served when there is no public accounting?

The Border Patrol is in essence a federal police force, and its use of deadly force should be viewed through a similar prism. Border agents, like local police officers, often find themselves in dangerous situations, and occasionally must use lethal force to protect themselves and the public. But that doesn’t mean society owes them limitless deference or that their actions should be considered beyond question.

To read more click here. 

Justice Department Blasts Ferguson Police for Discrimination, Abuse of Power

Michael Brown

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A long-awaited report on Ferguson found numerous constitutional violations that called for new oversight, retraining of employees and abandoning the current approach to policing.

The New York Times reports that the Justice Department criticized Ferguson police for routinely making unlawful searches, hurling racial insults and treating anyone as a criminal for questioning the tactics.

While a separate report found no civil rights abuses against the white officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, the Justice Department described a discriminatory environment that led to months of protests.

“Seen in this context — amid a highly toxic environment, defined by mistrust and resentment, stoked by years of bad feelings, and spurred by illegal and misguided practices — it is not difficult to imagine how a single tragic incident set off the city of Ferguson like a powder keg,” Mr. Holder said.

The report means Ferguson must make changes or face a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Oversight Report Blasts Homeland Security for Failing on All Its Missions

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

Homeland Security has failed on all five of its main missions, according to a scathing oversight report by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, Fox News reports. 

“Ten years of oversight of the Department of Homeland Security finds that the Department still has a lot of work to do to strengthen our nation’s security,” Coburn said.  “Congress needs to review the Department’s mission and programs and refocus DHS on national priorities where DHS has a lead responsibility.”

One unanswered question, according to the report, is whether the $50 billion that Homeland Security spent in the past 11 years on counterterrorism made the country any safer.

The report also criticizes Homeland Security for failing to properly protect the borders and combat cyber-attacks.

Still, Coburn said the future is bright if Congress acts quickly to resolve the problems.

“I am confident that Secretary Jeh Johnson is leading the Department in the right direction,” Coburn said.  “One of the biggest challenges that Sec. Johnson and DHS face is Congress and its dysfunctional approach to setting priorities for the Department.  Congress needs to work with the Department to refocus its missions on national priorities and give Secretary Johnson the authority to lead and fix the Department.”

Other Stories of Interest

 

Congress Should Return Secret Service to Treasury’s Oversight After Blunders

secret service photo

Michael D. Langan
Special to the Buffalo News

It is time for Treasury defenders in Congress to return the Secret Service to Treasury’s oversight.

When I served as senior adviser to the under secretary for enforcement at the U.S. Department of the Treasury from 1988 to 1998, the Secret Service was one of the proud standard bearers of the best agencies that the federal government could offer to its citizens.

It has been in decline lately because of a breakdown in leadership, morale, procedures and protocols.

As a result, the issue of who should oversee the Secret Service is on the front burner again.

Should it continue to be overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, as it has for the past 11 years, or return to the Treasury Department, where it resided for 138 years?

Here is some recent history.

The 9/11 Commission, established in 2002, recommended that the Secret Service and other elements of federal law enforcement be placed in a new, massive entity, the Department of Homeland Security. Ostensibly, this meant that law enforcement decision-making could be captured in one place without the problems of competing bureaucracies.

The commission’s intent was to make the United States safer from terrorist attacks after 9/11. Despite Homeland Security’s good efforts, things haven’t worked out for the Secret Service or, it seems, for other law enforcement agencies put in that same department. It could be argued that there are more competing bureaucracies within Homeland Security than before the mergers.

Sometimes bigger isn’t better; it’s bad. Confusion can reign because of conflicting rules, internal squabbles, budget insufficiencies and overlapping jurisdictions.

To read more click here.

Employees: Byzantine Oversight of Homeland Security is Crushing Morale, Hindering Work

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

Homeland Security has so much congressional oversight that it’s damaging morale and making the work more difficult, the Washington Post reports.

Consider the number of committees and subcommittees that oversee DHS – more than 90, which exceeds the number that has jurisdiction over the Defense Department by nearly three fold.

“It makes no sense at all,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a homeland security committee member, who attributed the structure to a “petty fight for power” between committees reluctant to give up their piece of DHS.

When the department was created in 2002, 22 autonomous federal agencies were combined.

“It makes it very difficult for the department,’’ said King, who sees “no movement” in Congress to change the situation. “The amount of time that goes into preparing for a congressional hearing is immense. It’s like this hydra-headed monster they have to deal with.’’