In Defense of Secret Service Restraint

 

12895214653_babbef969f_zSix minutes into the latest Ricochet flagship podcast, James Lileks says he was shocked to hear the (now ex-head) of the Secret Service praise her agents for their restraint in tackling and restraining the White House intruder when they should have unleashed a “hail of lead to reduce him to ground chuck…”

Well, I too was shocked when I heard that the man wasn’t gunned down before he reached the White House. But I need to defend the Secret Service here.

First, on general principle, I appreciate when a government agent — operating inside the United States — holds his fire when he’s not being fired on. I’m okay with this. The fewer law enforcement shootings there are, the better.

Second, this doubly applies if we’re talking about the lawn of the White House. That’s our house. As old fashioned and quaint as this is going to sound, this is still a republic, and it’s supposed to be free and open. It wasn’t so long ago that you could still walk up to the front door and present your card. Unless the president (or his family, I guess) is in immediate physical danger, I’d really rather not have people firing guns on the lawn.

Third, hails of lead are generally a bad idea. Bullets travel up to a mile or two unless they hit something, and — not only is the White House located in the middle of a city — people tend to crowd 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to gawk. If someone were hit, that could cause a panic and nothing good follows from that.

But when it really comes down to it, all these things go out the window if the president is actually in physical danger, except…

Fourth, President Obama wasn’t there, and the Secret Service agents involved in this latest incident knew that. At no point was the president in any actual danger. So, given the choice between letting this guy run and get tackled or a “hail of lead to reduce him to ground chuck,” I’ll take the former.

Did the Secret Service drop the ball? Absolutely they did, and they seem to do so frequently. But did they drop the ball by not gunning this guy down on the lawn of the White House? Absolutely not.

Count me as one person who appreciate when government agents with guns show restraint.

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  1. Devereaux Member
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    I’m with you, Fred. This man posed no actual threat to anyone other than he was mentally off. JUST for jumping the fence of the White House, complete with the ARMY of Secret Service people (one of whom, a woman, apparently failed to stop in inside the door – ?why was that) milling around the grounds.

    I understand defensive fire. I understand protection of the president (although I feel it has gotten way out of control). I just don’t see shooting people just because you can.

    • #1
  2. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Devereaux: I understand defensive fire. I understand protection of the president (although I feel it has gotten way out of control). I just don’t see shooting people just because you can.

    HEAR, HEAR!

    • #2
  3. Tuck Member
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Good post, agree 100%.

    • #3
  4. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    How about using the dogs?  And would it be OK to shoot him if he’s wearing an explosive vest?  Or has a gun?

    • #4
  5. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Great post, Fred. I too was impressed they were able to subdue this guy without harm.

    • #5
  6. Mama Toad Member
    Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    I wish the DC cops had shown restraint instead of killing Miriam Carey last year.

    The only disagreement I have, Fred, is that rather than “restraint,” the actions of the Secret Service in the fence-jumping seem more like “incompetence.”

    • #6
  7. Nick Stuart Member
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    The White House itself is a target. There would be a very high publicity value of a suicide bomber jumping the fence, rushing the building, getting to the interior, and detonating.

    The reason to shoot fence jumpers is to establish that if you jump the fence you will be shot, or at least immediately encounter overwhelming force. “Restraint” will not be exercised.

    • #7
  8. Spin Member
    Spin
    @Spin

    I’m of two minds on this.  On the one hand, I think we’ve become overprotective of the government in general.  Nobody wants the President to get shot, but if he does, the world doesn’t come to an end.  He is no more important than you or I.  He really isn’t.  We should protect him, of course.  But we ought not lock the place down the way we have.

    That said, a guy climbs the fence and runs across the lawn is no good.  He should have been stopped, by some means, before he even reached the building.  It probably ought to have been those dogs.  But I would not have had an issue if it were a shot fired from a sniper.  That wouldn’t have been a “hail of lead”, it would have been, likely, a single bullet.

    However, alls well that ends well, and to the degree no one got hurt and the Obama Administration has egg on their faces, this ended well.

    • #8
  9. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    I have no experience whatsoever in security. My experience and expertise is in financial risk management. However, it seems to me that certain general risk management principles should carry over.

    First, I would assume that all the protocols in place are the result of past analysis of vulnerabilities — and perhaps some hard-won experience and failures. If there are dogs, they are there for a reason. If there’s a sniper, it’s for a reason. If there’s a fence, it’s for a reason. I am guessing that most were put in place to remedy past near-misses. It is arrogant and foolish for an individual to disregard rules without fully understanding the original motivation for instituting them — especially because downstream processes may be designed under the expectation of certain behavior by upstream actors.

    Most egregious to me is the fact that alarms were disabled. In my line of work, it sometimes makes sense to generate “exception reports” — i.e., a list of potential problems. But if the list is too long and people ignore it, that’s worse than having no list, because problems get buried. Disabling alarms is worse than having none, because it fosters complacency. Having no alarms at least keeps people cognizant and attentive to potential vulnerabilities. And I’m sure the alarms were originally put in place for a reason; what is the name of the person who authorized disabling them?

    That brings me to my other major point, regarding the fact that the first family was not present. Protocols need to be followed every time, or else you risk failure when protocols are most necessary. Now, it is often desirable to add decision points to a protocol — e.g., is the subject known to be carrying a firearm? Is the first family at home? — but every decision point will increase complexity, delay action, and magnify the risk of failure. When you add a decision point, you need to clearly delineate decisionmaking authority for each person in the process. You need to vest authority and responsibility in individuals, not groups. You need to identify backup and delegation procedures in case the person with authority is unavailable or incapacitated. Regardless, it appears that what happened here was not that “stand-down” protocols existed, but rather that established protocols were not followed. Who made those decisions? Were they within the scope of the person’s authority?

    This was not restraint. It was a gross failure.

    • #9
  10. gts109 Member
    gts109
    @gts109

    Lileks exaggerated for effect. Perhaps they shouldn’t have ended the guy in a hail of gun fire, but how the hell did he get over the fence without anyone noticing? How the hell did he run across the yard without anyone noticing? Didn’t he have to run across 50 or 100 yards of open space? Then, how the hell did he get in the building? Aren’t the doors locked? Or guarded? Aren’t there video cameras? Finally, how the hell did he get deep into the building, mere steps apparently from the First Family residence?

    And, once he’s reached that point, having evaded multiple layers of security, gun fire is an entirely appropriate response. I might shoot a crazy guy running up the stairs of my house in the middle of the night. And, I’d be entirely justified.

    Seriously, this is a huge, major mess up, and thank god it was just a crazy, global warming conspiracy theorist, instead of a terrorist with a bomb.

    And, Spin, just FYI, the President is WAY more important than you or I. WAY.

    • #10
  11. Lumimies Member
    Lumimies
    @Lumimies

    gts109: Lileks exaggerated for effect. Perhaps they shouldn’t have ended the guy in a hail of gun fire, but how the hell did he get over the fence without anyone noticing? How the hell did he run across the yard without anyone noticing? Didn’t he have to run across 50 or 100 yards of open space? Then, how the hell did he get in the building? Aren’t the doors locked? Or guarded? Aren’t there video cameras? Finally, how the hell did he get deep into the building, mere steps apparently from the First Family residence?

    Those are the real questions.  We’re not talking about restraint here. We’re talking about inattention and incompetence.

    • #11
  12. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    gts109: And, Spin, just FYI, the President is WAY more important than you or I. WAY.

    Ehh… not really. He’s just perceived to have magical importance because of public lore.

    • #12
  13. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Mike H:

    gts109: And, Spin, just FYI, the President is WAY more important than you or I. WAY.

    Ehh… not really. He’s just perceived to have magical importance because of public lore.

    If you have the authority to launch nuclear strikes, I’m impressed.

    • #13
  14. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    gts109: Lileks exaggerated for effect.

    I don’t want to speak for the man, but any time James Lileks talks about reducing a man to ground chuck, I’m willing to grant that it may be exaggerated for effect.

    But what he meant was that we should’ve shot the man, probably repeatedly, which is what I aimed my comments at.

    • #14
  15. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Mama Toad:I wish the DC cops had shown restraint instead of killing Miriam Carey last year.

    The only disagreement I have, Fred, is that rather than “restraint,” the actions of the Secret Service in the fence-jumping seem more like “incompetence.”

    I don’t disagree with you on the first part.

    As to restraint, I think we all know that means “not shooting the guy.”  I’m okay with that.

    • #15
  16. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Son of Spengler:

    Mike H:

    gts109: And, Spin, just FYI, the President is WAY more important than you or I. WAY.

    Ehh… not really. He’s just perceived to have magical importance because of public lore.

    If you have the authority to launch nuclear strikes, I’m impressed.

    The government has the authority. Call me crazy, but if the president suddenly wanted to nuke a random location, I suspect he’d be met with internal resistance of the “get this guy out of here” variety.

    • #16
  17. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Basil Fawlty:How about using the dogs? And would it be OK to shoot him if he’s wearing an explosive vest? Or has a gun?

    So, I’ve thought about this dog thing for a couple of hours now.  In all honestly, I don’t know enough about how dogs (especially these dogs) are trained to answer properly.

    If you could tell clearly that it was an explosive vest, I’d say probably yes.

    As for a gun, it depends.

    Are we talking about a pistol?  Pistols are small and easy to mistake.  Many police shootings occur where afterwards the cop plays the he-looked-like-he-had-a-gun card.

    If we’re talking about a rifle, that depends too.  Something like an AK or an AR15 has a pretty distinctive shape.  That’s different from somebody running along with grandpa’s old shot gun.  Shooting accurately while running takes skill.  If this guy stopped and raised his a rifle, or got into shooting position, and it was clear he was about to shoot, I’d say  yes.

    The only unqualified yes I’d grant would be a North Hollywood shootout scenario.

    • #17
  18. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Mike H:

    Son of Spengler:

    Mike H:

    gts109: And, Spin, just FYI, the President is WAY more important than you or I. WAY.

    Ehh… not really. He’s just perceived to have magical importance because of public lore.

    If you have the authority to launch nuclear strikes, I’m impressed.

    The government has the authority. Call me crazy, but if the president suddenly wanted to nuke a random location, I suspect he’d be met with internal resistance of the “get this guy out of here” variety.

    But John Yoo would back him up to the Gates of hell.

    • #18
  19. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Mike H:

    Son of Spengler:

    Mike H:

    gts109: And, Spin, just FYI, the President is WAY more important than you or I. WAY.

    Ehh… not really. He’s just perceived to have magical importance because of public lore.

    If you have the authority to launch nuclear strikes, I’m impressed.

    The government has the authority. Call me crazy, but if the president suddenly wanted to nuke a random location, I suspect he’d be met with internal resistance of the “get this guy out of here” variety.

    I was a little glib, but even so, the processes (pursuant to the Constitution) ultimately vest POTUS with the final say. (And if you subscribe to the idea of the unitary executive, it’s not “the government” at all, but again, POTUS himself who has the authority.) If POTUS were to become incapacitated, it would have wide-reaching ramifications within our country and across the globe, as the transition of authority would not be seamless, despite everyone’s best efforts. Recall the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and questions of the safety (and even location) of POTUS and VPOTUS? The office of POTUS carries significant importance well beyond public lore.

    • #19
  20. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Nick Stuart:The White House itself is a target. There would be a very high publicity value of a suicide bomber jumping the fence, rushing the building, getting to the interior, and detonating.

    The reason to shoot fence jumpers is to establish that if you jump the fence you will be shot, or at least immediately encounter overwhelming force. “Restraint” will not be exercised.

    There’s something that feels very not right about having a fence, the fence to the house of the president of our republic, be an Andersonville-like dead line, where the penalty for crossing it is summary execution.

    • #20
  21. Mark Belling Fan Member
    Mark Belling Fan
    @MBF

    Reading this thread I visualized the scene at the end of that Tom Cruise Samurai movie. Where the Japanese military brings out the new Gatling guns to mow down the guys on horses with swords. I think it would be good for everyone to be under the impression that jumping the White House fence would result in a similar fate.

    • #21
  22. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Fred Cole:

    Basil Fawlty:How about using the dogs? And would it be OK to shoot him if he’s wearing an explosive vest? Or has a gun?

    If you could tell clearly that it was an explosive vest, I’d say probably yes.

    I understand suicide bombers often try to disguise them.  So they don’t get shot before they can explode them.

    • #22
  23. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Fred Cole:

    Nick Stuart:The White House itself is a target. There would be a very high publicity value of a suicide bomber jumping the fence, rushing the building, getting to the interior, and detonating.

    The reason to shoot fence jumpers is to establish that if you jump the fence you will be shot, or at least immediately encounter overwhelming force. “Restraint” will not be exercised.

    There’s something that feels very not right about having a fence, the fence to the house of the president of our republic, be an Andersonville-like dead line, where the penalty for crossing it is summary execution.

    Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, but good fences make good neighbors.

    • #23
  24. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Fred Cole: I don’t know enough about how dogs (especially these dogs) are trained to answer properly.

    I can’t find a link, but what I remember hearing on the first day was that the handler said they weren’t released because he didn’t know whether the dogs were asleep or not. Not…a good answer.

    Fred Cole: Bullets travel up to a mile or two unless they hit something,

    That’s precisely why the snipers are on the roof, not in the bushes. It’s why, in many jurisdictions, deer hunting with a rifle must be done from an elevated position. Since the snipers were not employed, it makes me think they are – in this particular Secret Service culture – simply there for window dressing.

    • #24
  25. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Son of Spengler: And if you subscribe to the idea of the unitary executive…

    Right. The reason the system works is because a lot of people believe the same ad hoc tradition, really really strongly. It’s also the reason why the president seems so important – because it would decimate the psychology of people not just here, but around the world. I don’t think this self-reinforcing belief system is terribly healthy, though.

    • #25
  26. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    I’m glad that Gonzalez wasn’t shot, because he’s mentally ill and he wasn’t actually trying to kill the president. (My brother-in-law is schizophrenic–I have great sympathy for people who suffer from mental illness.) However, there was no way for the Secret Service agents to know Gonzalez’s intentions. When a man jumps over the White House fence and rushes into the building, overpowering an agent in the process, it is simply ridiculous to conclude that there was no threat. Yes, the agents knew the president had just left. But they didn’t know that Gonzalez didn’t have a suicide vest and wasn’t planning on detonating it inside the White House. I would argue that, while obviously if given a choice between saving the president’s life and protecting the White House the former takes absolute priority, an attack on the White House itself would be devastating to the nation. That the president was not on site is simply not a reason to not shoot someone who jumps over the White House fence and charges through the front door.

    • #26
  27. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Fred Cole: Did the Secret Service drop the ball? Absolutely they did, and they seem to do so frequently. But did they drop the ball by not gunning this guy down on the lawn of the White House? Absolutely not.

    To follow up on my previous comment: I am in somewhat agreement with you, Fred. I’m glad they didn’t shoot him in this particular case. However, they dropped the ball all over the place, and probably they should have shot him.

    • #27
  28. Totus Porcus Member
    Totus Porcus
    @TotusPorcus

    First, I agree and am also glad that the guy wasn’t shot.  Anyone who’s watched the news recently sees that there’s too much “shoot at the first hint of risk to an officer” mentality these days.

    BUT.  There is a difference between restraint (good) and failure to respond effectively (bad).

    Here is an example of restraint.  This was a fence jumper at the White House on 9/11, and the President was not home.  Yet it looks like the Secret Service did an excellent job eliminating the threat and restraining the guy without deadly force, which they were prepared to use if necessary.

    140911_wh_fence_1901_9e13f01f1abc83b9ea57125e2a7231e1_50dce263d7effec8603f0908a2d6c62d9c93b816

    Contrast that to the video of the response to the recent jumper, where it appears the guards were caught completely flat-footed.  The reason he got inside the White House was not restraint, but failure.  Calling a complete failure the deliberate exercise of restraint (like Pierson did) is a miserable excuse, and lauding it as such is a mistake.

    • #28
  29. mwupton@gmail.com Lincoln
    mwupton@gmail.com
    @MattUpton

    I think they made the right call if snipers had the opportunity to fire and didn’t, especially in light of the President’s absence. It’s simply baffling that there weren’t several men at the door ready to intercept. What’s the point of wearing the cool earpieces and cuff mics if you aren’t using them?

    • #29
  30. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Fred Cole: There’s something that feels very not right about having a fence, the fence to the house of the president of our republic, be an Andersonville-like dead line, where the penalty for crossing it is summary execution

    But that’s not the case, and no one’s arguing for that. There are public tours of the White House all the time. But if someone jumps over the fence and runs towards the White House, then that’s a different situation. Agree?

    • #30

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