Secret Service can fully protect Obama, experts believe

By Sara Sorcher

May 1, 2012

Two-thirds of National Journal's National Security Insiders say the Secret Service scandal in Colombia does not call into question the agency's ability to fully protect President Obama.

As the Secret Service continues its internal investigation of allegations that agents brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, some lawmakers called for an inspector general's probe to determine if misconduct is widespread at the agency. Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the president's safety and national security could be at risk.

Most Insiders, 68.5 percent, were more optimistic. "Actions of a few knuckleheads should not undermine the entire service," one Insider said. Another said the leadership of the senior agent who discovered and acted rapidly on the matter indicates an "impressive" management of the Secret Service. "We have scandalous behavior, yes, but also an agency that learns, corrects mistakes, and deals with the consequences," the Insider said.

"The baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater," another Insider said. "Thoroughly investigate the matter, punish those involved, take measures to mitigate the problem happening in the future, and move on. The sensationalism of this story, however, will make any common-sense solution difficult to do."

Another 31.5 percent of Insiders were critical of the service. 

One said that the "deplorable behavior" displayed days before Obama's visit to Colombia, where the FARC still forms an active insurgency, demonstrates poor judgment and a lack of discipline. "As one who worked on White House and [secretary of State] advances overseas, we took security for the venues and schedules very seriously and would only see partying after the POTUS trips," the Insider said. "More heads need to roll, as this is most likely not an isolated incident in what looks like a fraternity-like culture in the current Secret Service. Money and sex are usually the reason for Beltway falls from grace; in this case, it was for being cheap and failing to pay that got them!"

With the general election in full swing, 68.5 percent of Insiders said foreign-policy issues will cut in favor of Obama over the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

"The incumbent has an advantage here. Obama has been careful to guard his national-security flank. Romney is finding it hard to find an opening, and the defense budget issue is not cutting [it] for him," one Insider said. "The public is concerned with jobs and the economy, not the level of defense spending, which is at an historic high, in any case."

For now, Obama has an edge, another said. "Rarely in modern history has a Democratic presidential candidate been less vulnerable on national security and foreign policy," the Insider said. "Obama has prosecuted wars, captured bin Laden, killed hundreds of terrorist leaders through drone attacks, provided valued but low-cost support to the British-French-led Libyan campaign."

Another Insider said: "As foreign-policy experts, we can nitpick this question to death. But to the broader electorate, you can summarize the foreign- policy debate in two words: 'bin Laden.' "

Another Insider argued the most "clever" of the two candidates will gain an advantage on foreign-policy issues. "Romney will get hurt if he trots out my hardcore neocon bubbas," one Insider said. "At the same time, at a critical point, [Obama] has stopped leading on Afghanistan. Time for him to again pick up the flag and feign deep interest."

Read the rest of the survey results at the National Journal

By Sara Sorcher

May 1, 2012